Monthly Archives: February 2015

On the Venerable Bede, Jastarnia, Yesterday and Facing the Past or Future

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The Venerable One at Work – unbeknownst to His Venerm, He was about to cause some future controversy

 On the Most Venerable Bede

The English and very Venerable Bede (circa AD 672/3 – AD 735) was one of the most famous and accomplished medieval scholars.  In point of fact he was so significant a figure and so respected that to this day we call him the Venerable Bede (it could be that in combination with the fact that Bede just seems too short a name for a monk of any stature).

He was respected in his day and age (7th/8th centuries).

He was respected in the 11th and 12th centuries our esteemable (but note not “Esteemable”) William of Malmesbury relied heavily on Bede in constructing his own works.

And the relevance of Bede continues to this day!  It seems he has been at the center of a feud over the meaning of Easter between normal Christians on the one hand and fundamentalist Christians/fundamentalist atheists on the other hand.  The relevant passages are about the word Easter and its origin and are in the work called Of the Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione), specifically in Chapter XV entitled “Of the Months of the English” (De meniscus Anglorum) in which Bede tackles the origin of the English month names, relating the original name for April to be Easter-monat, which he then derives from the name of an alleged Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre leading the self-righteous in our society (and our society lately abounds in the self-righteous) to point out the rather obvious that Easter has pagan roots and then claim that those ever so-silly Christians had no idea how foolish they were.  Boohoo.  Here is what Bede actually says:


“In the days of old the English people, for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s – calculated their months according to the course of the Moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month month.”

(Antiqui autem Anglorum populi (neque enim mihi congruum videtur, aliarum gentium annalem observantiam dicere, et meae reticere) iuxta cursum lunae suos menses computavere; unde et a luna Hebraeorum et Graecorum more nomen accipiunt. Si quidem apud eos luna mona, mensis monath appellatur).

“The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath [sic – see below]; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Wodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called.  They began the year on the 8th kalends [December 25th], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord.  That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.”

(Primusque eorum mensis, quidem Latini Januarium vocant, dicitur Giuli. Deinde Februarius Sol-monath, Martius Rhed-monath, Aprilis Eostur-monath, Maius Thrimylchi, Junius Lida, Julius similiter Lida, Augustus Vueod-monath, September Haleg-monath, Oktober Vuinter-fylleth, November Blod-monath, December Giuli, eodem Januarius nomine, vocatur.  Incipiebant autem annum ab octavo Calendarum Januariarum die, ubi nunc natale Domini celebramus. Et ipsam noctem nunc nobis sacrosanctum, tunc gentili vocabulo Modranicht, id est, matrum noctem, appellabant, ob causam, ut suspicamur. ceremoniarum quas in ea pervigiles agebant).

“Whenever it was a common year, they gave three lunar months to each season.  When an embolismic year occurred (that is one of 13 lunar months) they assigned the extra month to summer, so that three months together bore the name “Litha”; hence they called [this embolismic] year “Thrilithi”. It had four summer months, with the usual three for the other seasons. But originally, they divided the year as a whole into two seasons, summer and winter, assigning the six months in which the days are longer than the nights to summer, and the other six to winter.  Hence they called the month in which the winter season began “Winterfilleth”, a name made up from winter and “full Moon”, because winter began on the full Moon of that months.”

(Et quotiescunque communis esset annus, ternos menses lunares singulis anni temporibus dabant. Cum vero embolismus, hoc est, XIII mensium lunarium annus occurreret, superfluum mensem aestati apponebant, ita ut tunc tres menses simul Lida nomine vocarentur, et ob id annus ille Thri-lidi cognominabatur, habens IV menses aestatis, ternos ut semper temporum caeterorum. Item principaliter annum totum in duo tempora, hyemis, videlicet, et aestatis dispartiebant, sex illos menses quibus longiores noctibus dies sunt aestati tribuendo, sex reliquos hyemi. Unde et mensem quo hyemalia tempora incipiebant Vuinter-fylleth appellabant, composito nomine ab hyeme et plenilunio, quia videlicet a plenilunio eiusdem mensis hyems sortiretur initium).

“…Hrethmonath is named for their Goddess Hretha [but see Rheda [Rod?] below], to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a Goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance…”


Eostre oh Eostre, where does thou come from?

(Rhed-monath a deo illorum Rheda, cui in illo sacrificabant, nominatur; Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretetur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cuius nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant; consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes).

With that behind us, let us reinsert ourselves into this “debate”, if only tangentially and with all due attention paid rather more to those matters that actually do concern us – those of the Slavs.

On Jastarnia

There is a small town on the Hel peninsula on the Bay of Gdansk.  At various times in its history it was referred to as Osternese (1582; Kossina, incorrectly, sticks in a 1532), Hesternest (1599), Hesternia (1627), Jasternia (1664) and now Jastarnia.   Now the area in the past was (and some portions of it continue to be) populated by those Pomeranians who go by the name of Kaszubs.  And at Easter, the Kaszubs celebrate Jastry instead of the Polish Swieta Wielkanocne (the Holidays of the Great Night – here too there is no Pascha).  Now most people agree that that is a reference to the German Ostern (i.e., Easter).  Well, there were Germans in Gdansk and the surrounding area.  There were Scots, Dutchmen, etc.  Some of them may well have lived in Jastarnia so if the locals became Polonized or simply took over the German name, that seems like nothing that is very exciting or unusual -so far.  So let’s go on further.



The Hel Peninsula is called that because of the tiny town called Hel at its tip.  Now, its name supposedly derives from Hel, the Germanic goddess of the underworld.  So we have some deities finally.  Maybe.  The Polish etymology points “dune” or to helasz as in “to get away” (as in “get the hell out” or did you think that was a reference to an actual Hell?).  The Linde Dictionary  – that is The Dictionary of the Polish Language (from 1807) by Samuel Bogumił Linde – puts it this way:


“Hellaway from land – don’t spare the oars”

The name of the town was originally Gellen or, perhaps, Gellin (as per a Danish Chronicle about a Danish King’s Valdemar II Victorious’ ship that floundered about there in 1192 – his dad was the guy who took Arkona for the Danes).

Perhaps though it is a German name.  German hell means “light” or “bright” – presumably there was fire and brimstone involved in the Germanic underworld as in most well functioning underworlds.  But perhaps the word hell means not the bright goddess of the underworld Hel per se but simply “bright”?  But bright what or who?


Nowhere else to run but straight into Eostre’s arms?

And here we come to the light.

The Kaszubian word jastny (also in old Czech) means the same as jasny in Polish (i.e., light, bright) or hell in German. Ok… so?


So Jastarnia may also refer to brightness.  Ok?


And it may refer to Ostern/Easter.

That is to say, it may mean both bright/light and Easter.  Easter may be a celebration of light.  Whose light?  Well, Jassa‘s of course.  We do know “Chiason sive Jassen” was connected by the Czech author with Sol, i.e., a solar cult.  And Jasny does mean bright/light in Polish which seems an easy etymological fit for Yasse of Lucas of Great Kozmin and Jan Dlugosz.

Further, there is a concept of Jastrebog i.e., Jastergod in Kaszubian (and among the Polabian Slavs too).  For example, the below states as follows:


Jastrebog, but also Jutrobog [on that see below], the name of a hillock in the district (Gaupago) of Wejherowo, lying between the villages of Linia and Miloszewo.  And that is proof, that these here lands from many a century are Polish, before a German foot stood here, ha! even before Christianity arrived in these parts.  Jutroboh, vel Jutrzyboh, vel Jutrzejboh, according to mythology the brother of Juternica, both the children of Swiatovid and Nocena, twins and a couple [ywww], mean the light that fights the shadows in the dawn.  To honor Jutrzebog the town of Juterboh was built on the Saxon border.”

The above text comes from the Little Kaszubian Dictionary from 1875.


Now, we do not think that the “mythology” referred to above is exactly backed up by anything (perhaps folk tales?  the author-priest does not say) and would even be inclined to dismiss a lot of it.  On the other hand, the information about the hill of Jastrebog, seems plausible.  And there are other Kaszubian dictionaries that mention the same hillock and, explicitly loop in Easter such as the following Kaszubian Comparative Dictionary:


which notes:


“Jastry – Easter, jastrzany – of Easter; Jastrzebog – the name of a hillock in the district (Gaupago) of Wejherowo,.  Compare Old Slavic utrojutro, za ustra, Lithuanian, auszra, Polish jutrojutrznia, Polabian jeutreJutrobohJutrzejboh [on that see below] – deus solis orientis; German Ostra-alee – East street, Old German ostara, German Ostern.”

The same dictionary offers the following explanation for the town name Jastarnia:


“Jastarniaa village on the Hel Pensinsula, German Heisternest; the German etymologists derive the from HeisterHaster – Elster and nest.  Which name was the original, Polish or German?  The origin of Jastarnia from “asterjaster” [i.e., aster the flower] does not seem likely to me; a more likely derivation would be from a German name from ElsterHasterAlster – magpie, because those kinds of birds were there [at Jastarnia] and continue to be there, while asters [flowers] were never there and continue not to be [there].  Also compare the following words: [goes to Jastry – see above]”

And the German town of Jüterbog continues to exist having been first mentioned under the year 1007 by our very own friend Thietmar of Merseburg as Jutriboc.


No Wendish or pagan connections here – move along now!

Now, whether that is a reference to a deity or to a “bok”, i.e., Slavic word for a “side” or to a Germanic “bach”, i.e.,  “stream” is a separate question (though Bach seems a stretch and even if it were a Bach, a question would have to be answered whether it was Jaster‘s/Jutro‘s Bach).

Here is an explanation from Linde again:


“Iuterbok – Serbian town within the borders of Lower Lusatia, so called after Iutroboh, that is the Goddess of dawn, who the Sorbs counted among their Gods”.

And then there is this:



In any event, as regards Jastarnia at least, the German writers describe it as a hive of superstition (Aberglaube), seemingly supporting its pagan roots

For example, so writes the redoubtable Carl Joseph Hübner in the the bestselling “Polens Ende, historisch, statistisch und geographisch beschrieben (mit vier (!) Kupfern und eine Landkarte)” published and republished in 1797-1807:


And to top it off with Hel, the town itself was for the longest time a pirate heaven.  In fact, it was raided by the Teutonic Knights (at the request of the Hanseatic League) in the 14th century once the knights had helped themselves to Gdansk.  Apparently, that did not stop the pirate activity and, eventually, the city was claimed by the sea – interestingly, the approximate date of this event is known (or at least it is claimed that it is known) and it is 1560 – specifically at Green Holidays (Zielone Swiatki), i.e., at Pentecost the sea destroyed the old pirate heaven…  We have written about Pentecost so much already that we will not repeat ourselves here but we urge you to peruse prior postings.  Apparently, a visitor to Hel in the 18th century saw the remains of an old church and the name Michel Tuba inscribed on the stone.  Whatever that may mean, we, at least, do not even pretend to know.

Consequently, it seems plausible to suggest that ancient (relatively speaking) Polish Slavs worshipped Jassa while there Pomeranian cousins (or Kaszub Poles, if you prefer) worshipped Jasterbog.  And the latter name also provides a clear (under the circumstances) connection with Easter which connects with Eostre further proving Jassa‘s and Jasterbog‘s divine connections.  

What can Jastarnia mean then?

How about Oster-nese or flipping it Nase-oster, i.e.,  “nase” (i.e., our) Jaster.


If you write it in Gothic script, it looks more authoritative

On Yesterday

There is another interesting thing about all of this – namely, yesterday:


Linde – you just can’t get enough of this stuff

In Slovenian tomorrow is “jutri”.  In Polish “jutro”.  In Czech “zitra”.  In Croatian & Serbian “sutra” and in Russian/Ukrainian “zavtra”.  These seem slightly different.

The Sorb language has both “jutře”, folkl. “zajtra”.  So maybe the s’ and z’s are just vernacular (or maybe their Slavic is a bit different for some interesting (?) reason – think Porphyrogenitus).

Now the Sorb language also has the concept of “raniši kraj”, or just “ranje”.  Which means… the East (Morgenland) (the West in German would be Abendland).

(Now, Ranie or Ranii were a tribe of Ruegen as we already discussed and, oh by the way, they appear in Jordanes’ Getica as a Germanic tribe: “Sunt quamquam et horum positura Grannii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi, Arochi, Ranii, quibus non ante multos annos Roduulf rex fuit, qui contempto proprio regno ad Theodorici Gothorum regis gremio convolavit et, ut desiderabat, invenit. Hae itaque gentes, Germanis corpore et animo grandiores, pugnabant beluina saevitia.”)

Getting back on point.  East.  We’re heading East.  In Russian it is vostok, i.e., to stick out (versus West, zapad, i.e., to fall down).  The other Slavic languages generally have some similar version of  (e.g., Serb and Croatian, istok zapad) though Polish and Ukrainian are slightly different (Wschod/Skhid & Zachod/Zakhid – coming up and going down not sticking out & falling) with Sorb (and to some extent Czech & Slovak) again straddling the fence.

(Incidentally, ostry means sharp.  In many ways it is similar to East and its meaning.  Why? How so? Because of the sharpness of the rising Sun.  Similarly, ostrow means an island in Slavic.  Why? Because it is like a cut in the surface of the water).

Trying to get back to our point again:

The prior day is “yesterday” in English (this one is not a revelation) and is “gestern” in German. But in Slavic languages, a cognate “jutro” is the subsequent day.  (However, another cognate appears to be the Slavic “vecer” pronounced vecher, which means evening and also presumably vechoray, meaning yesterday).  So that the Germanic language would see the East/Eostre behind their backs, yesterday.  In Slavic, however, the East/Jaster would come tomorrow.  So does that mean that the Slavs were heading East but the Germans West?  And, if so how did they meet (assuming they did not go all the way around)?

Once more we hop on to Linde re: Jutrzenka, i.e. Morning Star (in Windish Juterniza – cognate to Jastarnia?):


justernica2And what does that mean for “gestern”‘s and “yesterday”‘s relationship with “stern” and “star,” respectively? jastarnia has a “star” in it but in Slavic “star” is g- or -h or “zvezda”.  But “stari” or “stara” or “staro” means “old”.  Interesting, isn’t?

So was Jassa/Jessa the divine light and the divine morning and the God of the spring (see vesna, wiosna)?  Or was that just Jaster? And was Eostre, the Goddess of both the spring and the morning.  All of them being divinities of the awakenings?

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February 28, 2015

Of the Main Veneti – Polybius

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Τεργέστη – Targ yest (where the market is) – Eppensteiner? Or “mit einer banier rôtgevar, daß was mit wîße durch gesniten hûte nâch wendischen siten”?

Polybius 2.17

“The Etruscans were the oldest inhabitants of this plain at the same period that they possessed also the Phlegraean plain in the neighborhood of Capua and Nola, which, accessible and well known as it is to many, has such a reputation for fertility.  Those therefore who would know something of the dominion of the Etruscans should not look at the country where they now inhabit but at these plains and the resources they drew thence.  The Celts being close neighbors of the Etruscans and associating much with them, cast covetous eyes on their beautiful untry, and on small pretext, suddenly attacked them with a a large army and, expelling them from the plain of the Po, occupied it themselves.  The first settlers at the eastern extremity, near the source of the Po, were the Laevi and Lebecii, after them the Insubres, the largest tribe of all, and next these, on the banks of the river, the Cenomani.  The part of the plain near the Adriatic had never ceased to be in the possession of another very ancient tribe called the Veneti, differing slightly from the Gauls in customs and costume and speaking another language.  About this people the tragic poets tell many marvelous stories.  On the other bank of the Po, by the Apennines, the first settlers beginning from the west were the Anares and next them the Boii.  Next the latter, towards the Adriatic, were the Lingones and lastly, near the sea the Senones.”

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February 27, 2015

On Crazy Etymologies

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Given the amount of interest in our prior article, we decided to put our musings on the etymology of Jassa in a separate post here so that we can ask whether:

1) the reference is to asas as in “heights”, or to

2) the grumpy giant Thjasse (itself a corruption of Dedu Jasse?) of the Icelandic Sagas or to

3) the Celtic Esus (is Teutates – the Tu-tata? the “here dad” or is it the “volk dad” (or is that the same, e.g., *theudisk – tutejse?) and what of Taranus where taran means a “battering ram” or “to crush” to this day in some Slavic languages), or to

4) Istanu of the Hittites, or whether

5) the Poles/Czechs/Slavs are Iazyges (yazik means tongue and Slovo means words so...but what of the Ossetians!?),or were

6) believers in the old Aessir (Odin & Co. are supposed to have come from Asia and to have fought the vans (Veneti)?), or were

7) worshippers of King David’s father Jesse (Yassa in, e.g., Arabic), and whether

8) this has something to do with Osos of Tacitus (“From the Gallic language spoken by the Gothinians, and from that of Pannonia by the Osians, it is manifest that neither of these people are Germans” or “Cotinos Gallica, Osos Pannonica lingua coarguit non ease Germanos”), and whether

9) Saint Jerome was onto something more when he made his Psalm 83 reference right after saying “and, alas for the commonweal, even the Pannonians [have invaded the Roman Empire] for Assur also is joined with them” (first listing Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepids, Herules, Saxons, Burgundians and Allemani as the other invaders), and whether

10) Egypt (Isis) (wait a minute didn’t our friend, Cornelius Tacitus himself say that the Suevi worshipped Isis, something that he could not explain?) Assyria (Ishtar) is where all this leads to, or

11) perhaps India with the Asuras, and is

12) Zoroaster involved somehow n any of this! (and what of Ahura Mazda?), or is

13) Genghis Khan behind all of this with his Yassa code of laws (but is that word a Mongol or Turkic one?), and

14) when the inhabitants of Ukraine and Poland were taken captive into yassir, is it somehow relevant that yassir  meant carrying away but also… harvest (but maybe only of people? but what if originally only of certain people such as Slavic people?, e.g., also yasla/yaselka – carrying devices as also in a wooden manger), and

15) what of Mount Ossa (with Zagora at its foot) just by Mount Olympus, and

16) are there any other wacky ideas (Arafat anyone?)? How about Boris Rybakov’s observation of a lizard worship (among the Ilmen Slavs?) in the Rus?  (yashchur, yasher) which he noted was also present in Lithuania and sounded to him a bit like the Polish Yassa?  Perhaps the lizard or dragon was Yassa?  Here is a picture from Rybakov’s book showing the various yasher carvings:


And we know the Dacians were (perhaps) Gets – see below picture re: Anglosaxon version of yet/get) and were carrying dragons on their banners; others, including Romans later, too; and what, speaking of Russia, what about that lake there up north?


Up front we ought to come clean and say that we do not believe most of these have any relevance at all to Jassa or Yassa and we make them here to show the absurdity of drawing connections everywhere you can.  See for example this prior post on the same topic here.

Because this word is a rather simple one in its construction, it is hardly surprising that  it appears in many different places in the world in different contexts.  Had the Slavs’ God’s name were Merovingian and there were a separate reference to a Merovingian in, say, China then we would be duly impressed and willingly to consider the craziest hypotheses.  However, that is not the case with the syllable yas or jas.  (Even were some of these deities somehow related, we ought to point out that it is not necessarily the case that they derive one from another as opposed to from some original deity name).

On the other hand, while Aleksander Brueckner explained the Polish God JesseJesze, Yassa or Yessa  as an appelative of “let it be”, “let it happen” (imploring), this is hardly dispositive and one need only point out that the name of Dadzhbog, “let God give” is also a form of an appelative and is an attested God name in Russia (see PVL).


Here is the redoubtable Linde with his 1807 Polish language dictionary on the similar word “jeszcze” meaning, roughly, “yet”:


A note on the abbreviations: Dl. means Dalmatian, Rg. means Ragussan (i.e., from Dubrovnik), Bs. means Bosnian, Cro. means Croatian, Crn. means Carinthian (i.e., some dialect of Slovenian), Vd. means Windish or Styrian (another Slovenian dialect).  The others are obvious (and some are interesting, such as Angl. which obviously means English and Anglos. meaning Anglosaxon)

Further, “let it be” or, more likely, “there is” is a well known reference to a number of deities (see the general Indoeuropean, “is”, “ist” or “jest” as the source ultimate) – and examples from the Middle East are obvious.

All that said, there is an interesting reference to a similar deity name that likely is related to Jassa if only by virtue of geographical closeness and it comes from the Polish region of Kaszuby.

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February 22, 2015

On the Discipline of Linguistics

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We are reminded to use a safety or trigger word before discussing unpleasant or difficult topics – to protect the fragile minds of our readers.  We do not think a word can have the desired protective “alert” effect.  So from now on we will use a “safety picture” – this one – which will signify an upcoming quasi-cerebral section (quasi because this is a blog not a textbook – readers with 90 plus IQs will not notice anything):


WARNING: head explosion danger ahead! Consult your physician, have cold compresses on standby and if proceeding at all, for God’s sakes read slowly!!!

Linguistics is an interesting discipline with much to say about language formation, history, etc.  However, we are moved to point out that linguistics is not, as some would have it, a science.  It is no more than the study of patterns, which patterns may or may not be there in reality.  It should then be obvious that the linguists’ “laws” or “rules” are nothing of the sort.  They are in fact merely observations that may, if they are well laid out, more often than not, inform our assessment of some unknown quantity.  Their usefulness should be appreciated for they come against the backdrop of pre-19th century beliefs in the essential randomness of language development.  But, at the same time, their predictions should never be stated with the hubris of absolute certainty, deserving instead, and depending on the scenario, a good mark to the extent they produce more likely than not results in the observable realm of language.  As regards, the languages of the past, however, we must not forget that the linguists’ predictions can almost never be actually tested (we say almost never because one can imagine scenarios where some new artifact hitherto unknown comes to light and proves or sinks the validity of some prediction).  Even physics admits the existence of essentially random events via the propositions of quantum dynamics and linguistics, if anything, should be humbler than physics and certainly humbler than its professors frequently make it out to be.

That is to state the obvious.  But another observation here is, we think, useful.  Linguists live in their own world and seek to establish their propositions for reasons of their own.  To achieve that they frequently borrow from historians and archeologists without analyzing what the “other-disciplinary crutch” they just borrowed actually rests on.  When historians and archeologists look for their own crutch by, in turn, relying on linguists statements (and they should all fess up because, loathe that they may be to admit it, they – being all academics – actually do borrow from across the intra disciplinary aisle) it may happen that both sides come to realize, too late, that there is, in fact, no crutch there at all.

As we have seen already, historians have asserted that linguistics may help us determine the location of the “homeland” of the Slavs.  These ingenious folks took a look at certain words and, seeing as some of them were described by their colleagues the linguists as Germanic, classified them too as such and proceeded in turn to appropriate areas where such words may have relevance for the Germanic tribes and conversely exclude from those areas the Slavs.  This logic has its evident problems such as, for example, assuming the assumption as to the nature of a given word is correct, one must further assume no existence in the remote past of a similar Slavic word that then was not replaced by a Germanic one for a variety of reasons.  Nonetheless, as no one can be expected to prove a negative we are willing to let such considerations be put aside initially.  There is however another problem here.  The linguists themselves are interested only in linguistics and they look to the historians to help them with their own assumptions.  This raises what is a classic “chicken and the egg” problem.

Sometimes, the linguists can own the entire chicken/egg problem themselves even without resorting to other disciplines.  To give one recent example from the otherwise very interesting “The Germanic loanwords in Proto-Slavic” book by Saskia Pronk-Tiethoff:

“In view of the probable location of the Proto-Slavic and the Proto-Germanic homelands, it is highly unlikely that the contacts between the Slavic and Germanic tribes started before the time the Proto-Slavs began to spread into central Europe and onto the Balkans, and before the time the Goths had moved into the Pontic area.  It can therefore be excluded that any Slavic loanwords were borrowed into Proto-Germanic, for when the first contacts came about, Proto-Germanic as a linguistic unity had ceased to exist.  If it is possible to prove or put a convincing case for Proto-Slavic loanwords in Germanic, these must therefore be words that were either borrowed into Gothic or into West Germanic (or possibly even into Northwest Germanic); if an alleged loan-word is attested in all branches of Germanic, the word is hardly likely to stem from Slavic.”*

In other words, if you want to determine the homeland of the Slavs, you cannot use linguistics to do that.  Why?  Because linguistics cannot answer what was borrowed from what without relying on assumptions about the location of such a “homeland.”

So… take a word a version of which appears in all Germanic languages.  Say, buk for our notorious beech tree.

This word is Germanic in origin.


Because it cannot have come from Slavic.


Because it is in all Germanic languages and therefore must have been in Proto-Germanic.

So what?

Well, Slavs did not live close enough to Germans when there was in existence one proto-Germanic language so Slavic > Germanic cannot have occurred.

How do we know that?

Because Slavs do not have their own word for a beech tree.

But don’t they have buk?

No, silly – we’ve already explained that this is a Germanic word (see above).

End of story.

So what does this actually look like? Like this:

[S-T at 4.1.4 discussing “Proto-Slavic” homeland: “Proto-Slavic inherited the word[s] for beech… which was borrowed from Germanic – see 5.2” below and, therefore, according to her, the proto-Slavic homeland must have been to the East of the beech line – so now we know where the proto-Slavic homeland was]

[S-T at 5.2 discussing “beech”: “The word could have been borrowed by the Slavs in connection with the writing on slabs of beechwood… Alternatively, the borrowing might be connected to the spread of the Slavs from their original homeland to the west [as we know this location was established at 4.1.4 above]”; S-T then talks here about the Kaliningrad/Elbe-Odessa line and concludes regarding buk: “origin: Germanic” – stating that the only thing that is yet unknown is which Germanic language the borrowing was made from]

This kind of an issue is more easily determinable (assuming you are willing to scratch your head for a moment) but S-T’s other gymnastics actually require some effort to look behind the curtain.  She says, for example, that Slavic did not have its own marine vocabulary citing Schenker’s work.  If you actually trouble yourself, however, and shell out some cash or visit a library, you will note that Schenker does make this claim but… (perhaps this should be obvious?) cites precisely no one for the proposition (it seems that the claim can be traced back to Meillet and we will deal with that in due time).

* This is merely a flavor of the problem.  One may also ask why the word could not have been Proto-Indo European? (Supposedly, amongst other reasons because we know that there are no beech trees in the East and we know that the PIEs migrated from the East.  But did they? We get into the same quandary here).

One too may ask why a Slavic word could not have spread to all Germanic languages after contact was made (In whatever century – even if only in 5th/6th)?

Now, there are other reasons why buk may be Germanic but they are irrelevant to the above illustration which could have been done with any number of other words.

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February 19, 2015

On the Mountains of Jassa

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Note to our readers:

Yes, we will continue with the Polabian Gods’ description and we have a Pomeranian project coming too BUT in the meantime we have a desire to make a brief detour (more to come later on this too).  A detour that leads us far North – or does it?


Hrubý Jeseník (Tall Jesenik) range – the tower in the background is at the highest point known as Praded (grandfather, old man or old…God) (Interestingly, the range also contains such peaks as Keprnik – so that too is not a German word)

The Saga of Hervor & King Heidrek the Wise is an Icelandic saga.  It comes to us in a variety of manuscripts and versions.

One English translation is Nora Kershaw’s 1921 translation under the title of “The Saga of Hervor and Heithrek” (Hervarar Saga og Heiðreks) (so-called manuscript R).

Another is Christopher Tolkien’s 1960 translation of “The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise” (Saga Heiðreks konúngs end vitra) (so-called manuscript H).

Finally, there is the more recent Peter Tunstall’s 2005 translation titled “The Saga of Hervor & King Heidrek the Wise” which itself is a composite of (1) “The Saga of Hervor and Heithrek” (Hervarar Saga og Heiðreks) and of (2) “The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise” (Saga Heiðreks konúngs end vitra).

There are several interesting things about these texts.

First, to get this out of the way, they contains a bagful of names that have made it to J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings.  Tolkien was into the Old English language and Anglo-Saxon myths in general (e.g., Beowulf translation).  If you ever asked yourself where Balin or Gimli come from or, for that matter Boromir and Faramir, these kinds of sagas are it.  (To a Slav, the -mirs and -ins may sound vaguely Slavic and we will have more to say about that later when we discuss -mir’s, -mer’s, -gast’s and -gost’s).  In any event, his son Christopher enjoyed similar topics and, as noted above, also came up with his own translation of the saga in question here.

(Interestingly, although the Tolkien family is usually described as coming to Britain from Germany, his last name is neither English nor German.  For our best guess, together with the requisite German connection, see the village of Tołkiny (German Tolkynen – both from Old Prussian) deep in former East Prussia and today’s Poland).

Second, the sagas although written down much later (earliest manuscripts from the 13th century) deal with what is, in effect, pre-history.  They speak of the Gothic struggle against the Huns, for example.  It is highly unlikely that their writers were using and “improving” on Ammianus Marcellinus, Jordanes, Procopius and the like.   Consquently, they are a window into a time and place which remained largely untouched and unobserved by the Roman writers who, naturally, were only concerned with the various barbarian tribes once those got too close to the Roman frontiers.

Third, there are several interesting Slavic “connections” or at least “hooks”.  The chronicles talk about Gardarike, a term that may be Russia but also may be Pomerania (which was called that by the Scandinavians by reason of all the grads or gards on its shores – e.g., the various Stargards – this what one might have thought were a purely Slavic term (grad, grod, gorod) itself presents problems – e.g., see As-gard…).  Also, in a number of places, there are references to Harvaða mountains, which have been identified with the Harvati, i.e., the Croats and which – may – be the Carpathians (there were also the residences of the Carpi though (as well as the Avari…)).  Thus, we have:


“Hinn mælti: ‘Taktu sverðit undan höfðafjölinni ok fá mér,” en sá tók ok brá ok sneið höfuð af fiskinum, ok þá kvað hann vísu: “Þess galt hún gedda fyr Grafár ósi, er Heiðrekr var veginn und Harvaða fjöllum.”

English (Kershaw):

“And he took it and unsheathed it, and cut off the fish’s head, and then spoke a verse:

This pike at the mouth of the river
Has paid the penalty
For the slaughter inflicted on Heithrek,
‘Neath the Mountains of Harvath”

English (Tunstall):

“And he took it and drew it and cut the head off the fish, and then he chanted a verse:

The price was paid
by the pike at Grave River,
when Heidrek was slain
under Harveth Fells.

Other Interesting Things

But there is another interesting aspect of all of this and it is in the following language:

Old Norse:

“Angantýr kvað:

“Kenndu at Dylgju ok á Dúnheiði, ok á þeim öllum Jassarfjöllum; þar opt Gotar gunni háðu ok fagran sigr frægir vágu.”

Nú reið Gizurr í brott ok þar til, er hann kom í her Húna. Hann reið eigi nær en svá, at hann mátti tala við þá. Þá kallar hann hári röddu ok kvað:

“Felmtr er yðru fylki, feigr er yðarr vísir, gnæfar yðr gunnfáni, gramr er yðr Óðinn.” Ok enn:  “Býð ek yðr at Dylgju ok á Dúnheiði orrostu undir Jassarfjöllum; hræ sé yðr at hái hverjum, ok láti svá Óðinn flein fljúga, sem ek fyrir mæli.””

English (Kershaw): 

“King Angantyr replied:

“Challenge them to battle at Dylgia and on Dunheith, and upon all the heights of Jösur, where the Goths have often won renown by glorious victories!”

Then Gizur rode away until he came to the host of the Huns. He rode just within earshot, and then called loudly, crying:

Your host is panic stricken, And your prince is doomed to fall; Though your banners are waving high in the air, Yet Othin is wroth with you all. Come forth to the Jösur Mountains, On Dylgia and Dunheith come fight; For I make a sure boast, In the heart of your host The javelin of Othin will light!

English (Tunstall):

“Angantyr said:

“Point them to Dylgja and to Dun Heath direct them and mark out all the Mounts of Jass;
there Goths often have given battle and fine victory they, famous, gained.”

Now Gizur rode off till he came to the army of the Huns. He rode no nearer than he needed to talk to them. Then he calls out in a loud voice and said:

“There’s fear on your forces, fey are your generals; the battle-banner above you looms; wrath with you is Odin.” And also: “I offer you at Dylgja and on Dun Heath I offer a fight under the Jassar Fells. A corpse be to you on every horse. May Odin let the javelin fly just as I decree.”

 Commentary on Jassarfjöll [um]:


“These mountains have not been identified.  It has been suggested that their name is identical with that of the Gesenke, the mountains in norther Moravia, and that both the Norse and German forms of this name are corruptions of Slavonic Jesenik meaning “ash-mountain.”

What are “ash” mountains?  Well, they are not volcanoes (unless we are way off geographically (or chronologically! 🙂 ). They are not even “ashen” mountains.  They are simply mountains covered with ash trees (old English “æsc“).  And therein lies the problem for anyone making a reference to these mountains as such – ash in Germanic does not have a “j”.

Botany intrudes once again

Botany intrudes once again

Why are we even talking about ash trees?  Probably because those who interpreted these words were looking to Ptolemy’s mention of Asciburgius Mountains in his section on Germania (he also mentions a town of Asciburgium (also in Germany).  Ptolemy places these mountains right next to the Sudeten (Sudety).  This makes sense except that the Sudeten of Ptolemy may not be the current Sudeten.  Or are they?

Thus, where (it seems) ash or the like is indicated in the same saga, the author has no problem using the Germanic spelling:

Ok er þeir bræðr koma í Sámsey, sjá þeir, hvar tvau skip liggja í höfn þeiri, er Munarvágr hét. Þau skip hétu askar. Þeir þóttust vita, at Hjálmarr mundi þessi skip eiga ok Oddr inn víðförli, er kallaðr var Örvar-Oddr. Þá brugðu Arngríms synir sverðum ok bitu í skjaldarrendr, ok kom á þá berserksgangr. Þeir gengu þá sex út á hvárn askinn. En þar váru svá góðir drengir innan borðs, at allir tóku sín vápn, ok engi flýði ór sínu rúmi, ok engi mælti æðruorð.

(And when the brothers come to Samsey, they see two ships lying in the cove which is called Munway. Those ships were the kind called ‘ashes’. They thought these ships must belong to Hjalmar and Odd. Then Arngrim’s sons drew their swords and bit on their shield-rims, and the berserk-state came on them. Then six of them went out onto each of the ashes. And there were such good warriors on board there that they all took up their weapons, and no one fled from his post, and no one uttered a word of fear.)

[What are “ash” ships (ashen?) as in the above paragraph, is a separate question – thankfully, it seems so far, not for us].

However, the Slavic word for “ash” is jesion which obviously does have the advantage of having an a “J” in it.  The mountains then would be mountains such as the Hrubý Jeseník (German Hohes Gesenke or Altvatergebirge – see above picture discussing the peak Praded) range or the Nízký Jeseník (German Niederes Gesenke).  These are in the Eastern Sudeten Mountains (in Moravia).


The 1812 (Polish) Linde definition (thank you for the contribution!)

(That the Slavs sometimes kept or added their “J”s is evident from, e.g., jeden vs. eins.  But see Icelandic giant Thjasse (did someone say “giant”? Like a Riese?  Like Riesengebirge?). They also kept the “D”s.  About jeden (Czech, Pol) odin (Ukr, Rus) and Chris Hemsworth’s father Odin, we will, of course, have a lot more to say later… as too about other numerals, e.g., which Slavic numeral is related to et cetera? 🙂 Too easy, no points for this one!)

That there may have been a battle between Goths and Huns we also learn from Widsith’s “Bard’s Tale” poem:

Wulfhere sohte ic ond Wyrmhere; ful oft þær wig ne alæg, þonne Hræda here ymb Wistlawudu heardum sweordum wergan sceoldon ealdne eþelstol ætlam leodum.

(I visited Wulfhere and Wyrmhere; there battle often raged in the Vistula woods, when the Gothic army with their sharp swords had to defend their ancestral seat against Attila’s host.)

That the Jeseniks are close to the sources of the Vistula is, of course, quite correct:


Jesenik on the left, Vistula sources on the right

The trouble is that, according to official chronology, there should have been no Slavs in Moravia at the time the Goth-Hun battle took place (or if there were any at all, they would have, perhaps, come with the Hun army which means that no one would have cared what they named the mountains in their tongue).

And so here we are.

Zeitschrift für Erdkunde, etc (from 1847):

This suggests the “hilly” terrain next to the village Jeser in Pomerania… With all due respect “hilly” terrain seems a bit underwhelming for the site of such a mountain battle (we can believe the Huns, in their short reign, made it to Moravia but Pomerania seems a bit of a stretch).


Note also that some Slavic “nationalist” historians disputed the location of these Jassar mountains in the Sudeten.  The reason seems to be that that would have meant admitting that Goths had been in Poland/Moravia or close enough.  Consequently, they looked for name Jassar further east, as in the Bieszczady or even further around Ossetia where the Gothic kingdom would have ended and where various Sarmatian tribes included the Iazyges and other similar sounding tribes (that some of these tribes may have, in fact, reached Poland did not seem to have bothered them).  For the same reason, the same historians placed Gardarike as far East as possible, leaving all of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine free of their domination (e.g., insisting that Palteskia means Polotsk and not, for example, Pultusk).


The famous Hauksbok with Palteskia, Pulina land and Polena (to the east of which is Reidgota land and, thereafter, Hunland)

(BTW, the Hauksbok does not contain the references to Jassarfjöllum since it ends in the middle of Gestumblindi’s riddles leaving what happened later to other manuscripts)

What they did not seem to see, however, was the potential connection of the Sudeten Mountains with a, possible, pre-Germanic stratum (of whatever type but tied to Poles), assuming one were willing to read Jassarfjöllum as a case of (so to speak) singular possessive, as in Jassa’s Mountains (e.g., Stary Ded or Altvater).

(And aren’t these Jesenik mountains close to the R-Iesen Gebirge (Krkonoše or should it be Craco- or Krakonose!?), so maybe these latter ones are the Jassarfjöllum! Ok, so we are getting out of control here – time to stop)


Lucas of Great Kozmin’s eerily ancient answer???

For more see here regarding Polish Gods and here regarding crazy etymologies.

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February 14, 2015

On Svantovit (or Fortune) in the Writing of William of Malmesbury

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We have presented the writings of Saxo Grammaticus on Arkona/Svantevit (and will continue to do so). In the meantime, however, we would like to respond to some readers inquiring as to whether other sources regarding the Ruegen God exist.


Gorgeous calligraphy but not the relevant pages (we do not have the relevant ones in manuscript format)

Indeed they do. Here is one written by William of Malmesbury (c 1095 – c 1143). William has been seen as one of Britain’s greatest medieval scholars after Bede (the Venerable – on whose work William patterned his own and to whom we will return in the future when discussing Easter). In his monumental work, Chronicle of the Kings of England, William stated the following when discussing the Germans and their Emperor Henry (Chapter XII Of King Harold and Hardecanute discussing the years):

“This emperor [Henry III] possessed many and great virtues; and nearly surpassed in military skill all his predecessors: so much so, that he subdued the Vindelici and the Leutici, and the other nations bordering on the Suevi, who alone, even to the present day, lust after pagan superstitions: for the Saracens and Turks worship God the Creator, looking upon Mahomet not as God, but as his prophet. But the Vindelici worship fortune, and putting her idol in the most prominent location, they place a horn in her right hand, filled with Greek term we call “hydromel”. Saint Jerome proves, in his eighteenth book on Isaiah, that the Egyptians and almost all the eastern nations do the same. Wherefore on the last day of November, sitting around in a circle, they all taste it; and if they find the horn full, they applaud with loud clamors: because in the ensuing year, plenty with her brimming horn will fulfill their wishes in everything: but if it be otherwise, they lament. Henry made these nations in such a wise tributary to him, that upon very solemnity on which he wore his crown, four of their kings were obliged to carry a cauldron in which flesh was boiled, upon their shoulders, to the kitchen, by means of levers passed through rings.”

(Erat imperator multis et magnis virtutibus praeditus, et omnium pene ante se bellicosissimus, quippe qui etiam Vindelicos et Leuticios subegerit, ceterosque populos Suevis conterminos, qui usque ad hanc diem soli omnium mortalium paganas superstitiones anhelant; nam Saraceni et Turchi Deum Creatorem colunt, Mahumet non Deum sed ejus prophetam aestimantes. Vindelici vero Fortunam adorant; cujus idolum loco nominatissimo ponentes, cornu dextrae illius componunt plenum potu illo quem [variant: quod] Graeco vocabulo, ex aqua et melle, Hydromellum vocamus. Idem sanctus Hieronymus Aegiptos et omnes pene Orientales fecisse, in decimo octavo super Isaiam libro confirmat. Unde ultimo die Novembris mensis, in circuitu sedentes, in commune praegustant; et si cornu plenum invenerint, magno strepitu applaudunt [variant: plaudentes], quod eis futuro anno pleno copia cornu resdponsura sit in omnibus; si contra, gemunt. Hos ergo ita Henricus tributarios effecerat, ut, omnibus sollempnitatibus quibus coronabatur, reges eorum quatuor, lebetem quo carnes condiebantur, in humeris suis, per anulos quatuor vectibus ad coquinam vectitarent)

Incidentally, the reason this story even appears in the English writing is because King Harthacnut (son of Cnut/Canute the Great) gave away his sister Gunhilda to marry Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor.  The siblings were obviously also great-grandchildren of Mieszko I (since Cnut’s mother was Mieszko’s daughter Świętosława).  Thus, interestingly, all these people were Polish.

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February 12, 2015

Einhard on the Slavs

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Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne, is one of the principal sources of knowledge about the life and times of Karl der Grosse (Vita Karoli Magni).  He knew Charlemagne and his court intimately (he may have also gotten to know intimately Charlemagne’s daughter).

So the question arises what information was conveyed by him about the Slavs?  Well, not much.

Some of it is in Chapter 12, some in Chapter 14 and a few mentions in Chapter 15.  The  first story told is that of Charlamagne’s campaign against the Welatabi “on behalf of” the Obotrites.  (Perhaps this was the time of King Majik mentioned as the ruler of all Slavs in the Muslim writings that we saw earlier?).  Then there is mention in passing that the Danes had earlier subjugated the Obotrites.  Then we learn that the Saale (Solawa/Solava…) separates the Sorbs from the Thuringians.  Finally, there is some interesting anthropological information on the Slavs and their main tribes.

Chapter 12 of Vita Karoli Magni


“After the insurrection [of duke Tasillo of the Bavarians who confronted Charlemagne at the River Lech in 787], [the king] declared war against the Slavs, whom we normally refer to as the Wilzi, but who are properly called Welatabi in their own language.  In that war the Saxons fought as auxiliaries alongside the other peoples who were ordered to march in the king’s army, but the obedience [of the Saxons] was insincere and lacking in complete commitment.  That war came about because they [the Slavs] were constatntly harassing and attacking the Abotrites, who had once allied themselves with the Franks.  They [the Slavs] were not inclined to listen to the commands [of Charlemagne].”

“A certain gulf [i.e., the Baltic] with an unknown length and a width no more than a hundred miles wide and in many places [much] narrower runs from the western ocean towards the east. Many peoples live around this sea.  In fact, the Danes and the Swedes, whom we call Northmen, live along the northern shore [of the sea].  The Slavs, Estonians and other peoples live along the southern shore.  The Welatabi were the most prominent of these peoples and it was against them that the  king now took up war.  He beat them and brought them under his control in the one and only campaign he personally waged [against them], that from that point on they never thought of refusing to obey his commands.”


St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 547 Parchment from Cloister of St. Gall · about 1200 – This is on page 656


His motibus ita conpositis, Sclavis, qui nostra consuetudine Wilzi, proprie vero, id est sua locutione, Welatabi dicuntur, bellum inlatum est. In quo et Saxones velut auxiliares inter ceteras nationes, quae regis signa iussae sequebantur, quamquam ficta et minus devota oboedientia, militabant. Causa belli erat, quod Abodritos, qui cum Francis olim foederati erant, adsidua incursione lacessebant nec iussionibus coerceri poterant.

Sinus quidam ab occidentali oceano orientem versus porrigitur, longitudinis quidem inconpertae, latitudinis vero quae nusquam centum milia passuum excedat, cum in multis locis contractior inveniatur. Hunc multae circumsedent nationes; Dani siquidem ac Sueones, ques Nordmannos vocamus, et septentrionale litus et omnes in eo insulas tenent. At litus australe Sclavi et Aisti et aliae diversae incolunt nationes; inter quos vel praecipui sunt, quibus tunc a rege bellum inferebatur, Welatabi. Quos ille una tantum et quam per se gesserat expeditione ita contudit ac domuit, ut ulterius imperata facere minime rennuendum iudicarent.

Chapter 14 of Vita Karoli Magni


“Charlemagne’s final war was the one taken up against the Northmen who are called Danes.  First they had operated as pirates, but then they raided the coasts of Gaul and Germany with larger fleets.  Their king, Godefrid, was s filled with vain ambition, that he vowed to take control of all Germany.  Indeed, he already thought of Frisia and Saxony as his one provinces and had first brought the Abotrites, who were his neighbors, under his power and made them pay tribute to him.  He even bragged that he would soon come to Aachen, where the King [Charlamagne] held court, with a vast army.  Some stock was put in his boast, although it was idle, for it was believed that he was about to start something like this, but was suddenly stopped by death.  For he was murdered by one of his own attendants and, thus, both his life and the war he had begun came to a sudden end.”


page 657


Post quod et Saxonicum suae prolixitati convenientem finem accepit. Boemanicum quoque et Linonicum, quae postea exorta sunt, diu durare non potuerunt. Quorum utrumque ductu Karoli iunioris celeri fine conpletum est. Ultimum contra Nordmannos, qui Dani vocantur, primo pyraticam exercentes, deinde maiori classe litora Galliae atque Germaniae vastantes, bellum susceptum est. Quorum rex Godofridus adeo vana spe inflatus erat, ut sibi totius Germaniae promitteret potestatem. Frisiam quoque atque Saxoniam haud aliter atque suas provincias aestimabat. Iam Abodritos, vicinos suos, in suam ditionem redegerat, iam eos sibi vectigales fecerat. Iactabat etiam se brevi Aquasgrani, ubi regis comitatus erat, cum maximis copiis adventurum. Nec dictis eius, quamvis vanissimis, omnino fides abnuebatur, quin potius putaretur tale aliquid inchoaturus, nisi festinata fuisset morte praeventus. Nam a proprio satellite interfectus et suae vitae et belli a se inchoati finem acceleravit.

Chapter 15 of Vita Karoli Magni


“Previously the so-called eastern Franks had occupied no more than part of Gaul bounded by the Rhine, the Loire, the [Atlantic] ocean, and the Balearic sea and that part of Germany bounded by Saxony, the Danube, Rhine and Saal (the river that divides the Thuringians and the Sorbs).”


page 657 giveth


Nam cum prius non amplius quam ea pars Galliae, quae inter Rhenum et Ligerem oceanumque ac mare Balearicum iacet, et pars Germaniae, quae inter Saxoniam et Danubium Rhenumque ac Salam fluvium, qui Thuringos et Sorabos dividit, posita a Francis qui Orientales dicuntur incolitur…


“… Then he subordinated and made tributary all the rough and uncivilized peoples inhabiting Germany between the Rhine and Vistula rivers, the ocean and the Danube.  They almost all speak a similar language, but are very different from each other in customs and appearance.  Among these peoples the Welatabi, Sorbs, Obotrites and Bohemians are of special importance, and he came into armed conflict with all of them.  Other peoples [living there], who far outnumbered them, simply surrendered.”


page 657 keeps on giving


…deinde omnes barbaras ac feras nationes, quae inter Rhenum ac Visulam fluvios oceanumque ac Danubium positae, lingua quidem poene similes, moribus vero atque habitu valde dissimiles, Germaniam incolunt, ita perdomuit, ut eas tributarias efficeret; inter quas fere praecipuae sunt Welatabi, Sorabi, Abodriti, Boemani – cum his namque bello conflixit -; ceteras, quarum multo maior est numerus, in deditionem suscepit.

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February 12, 2015

On the Rarogi

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We all “know” that the Slavs are latecomers.  Or, at least, all the academics “know” that.  With that preconception in mind we begin here a new series that looks at this claim in more detail by examining instances of strange names or places that seem to gainsay the above made claim.  Nothing conclusive, of course, just some investigation with a looking glass.


Frequently, the claim is made that the Venethi/Veneti/Venedi name as applied to the Slavs is simply a carryover of the old name, most likely by the Germans, onto their new neighbors, the incoming Slavs.  Most people will admit that some Venethi may have been Slavicize din the process as, for that matter, may have been some remaining Restgermanen.  What is interesting, however, is that other instances appear where the same claim would have to be made.  That is, certain Slavic tribes, seem to have the same names as the Germans or Celts who allegedly preceded them.  In some cases, this may be explained by the fact that the geography of a given place necessarily preserved the name for the newcomers.  Think of the Rugians, for example.  Assuming the name Rugen remains in use then the people who live there are Rugians, whether they are the “original” Germanic Rugii or the new Slavic Rugii (aka Ranii).  But there are other instances of the same phenomenon which are not so easily explained.  So let us focus on one of them here.

Of the Rauraci

Ceasar, in his De Bello Gallico, mentions in Book I Chapter 5 and Chapter 29, the following Celtic peoples: Helvetii, Tulingi, Latobrigi, Rauraci and Boii (the last of whom are, we are to believe, the Celtic people, whose name gave name to the country of Bohemia).  Specifically, he says, when discussing this Celtic rebellion:

“After his death [that of Orgetorix of the Helvetii], the Helvetii nevertheless attempt to do that which they had resolved on, namely, to go forth from their territories.  When they thought that they were at length prepared for this undertaking, they set fire to all their towns, in number about twelve – to their villages about four hundred – and to the private dwellings that remained; they burn up all the grain, except what they intend to carry with them; that after destroying the hope of a return home, they might be the more ready for undergoing all dangers.  They order every one to carry forth from home for himself provisions for three months, ready ground.  They persuade the Rauraci, and the Tulingi, and the Latobrigi, their neighbors, to adopt the same plan, and after burring down their towns and villages, to set out with them: and they admit to their party aunited to themselves as confederates the Boii, who had dwelt on the other side of the Rhine, and had crossed over into the Norican territory, and assaulted Noricia.”

This was Chapter 5 so now for Chapter 29, where Ceasar mentions certain lists that the Romans found in the Helvetii camp that showed the strength of the individual tribes of this venture:

“Of all which items the total was [the following number of heads]: Of the Helvetii 263,000, of the Tulingi… 36,000, of the Latobrigi… 14,000, of the Rauraci… 23,000, of the Boii… 32,000…”

Appropriately enough the Rauraci are also listed on the Tabula Peutingeriana:

peutingerianarauraciThere they are sitting comfortably around Lake Geneva at Lausanne – close to Lake Constance with its Bregentz and Vindelici.  A similarly named Reruiges are further North:


(There are other interesting names on this map, e.g., Rutenii, Radriani or, for that matter, Veliati)

Of the Reregi

Adam of Bremen has this to say in his Book II Chapter 18 description of Slavia which is “a very large province of Germany [which is] inhabited by the Winuli who at one time were called Vandals”:

“Then come the Abodrites, who now are called Reregi, and their city is Mecklenburg.”

(Deinde secuntur Obodriti, qui nunc Reregi vocantur, et civitas eorum Magnopolis. )

bremensis(Except, it does not quite say that, rather it says: “Deinde secuntur Obodriti, qui altero noie Reregi vocantur, et civitas eorum Magnopolis.” That is “Obotrites who are also called Reregi”.  Same concept)

Further in Book III, Chapter 19:

“Now all the Slavic peoples who belonged to the diocese of Hamburg practices the Christian religion devoutly under that prince; that is, the Wagiri and Abodrites and Reregi and Polabingi [Polabians]; likewise the Linguones, Warnavi, Kicini, and Circipani, as far as the Pane River which in the privileges of our Church is called the Peene.”

(Igitur omnes populi Sclavorum, qui ad Hammaburgensem respiciunt dyocesim, sub illo principe christianam fidem coluerunt devote, hoc est Waigri et Obodriti vel Reregi vel Polabingi, item Linoges, Warnabi, Chizzini et Circipani, usque ad Panem fluvium, quem nostrae privilegia ecclesiae vocant Penem.)


These reference are made only in Adam’s work and some have speculated that they are based on a confusion with a trading place Rerk/Reric that was earlier mentioned by Einhard (whom Adam expressly relied on) or some other author of the Reichsannalen (under the years 808/809 as Emplorium Reric) but the suggestion that somehow Adam was fooled into thinking that Rerk  must have meant that there was or ought to have been a tribe of the same or similar name seems hollow.

Of Rarog

There are two things that are interesting about this name.  First, the Raurici/Reregi name is not one which one might say is easily, coming off the tongue so to speak, replicated, or, to put it a bit differently, it is not a name that one might think could be independently invented in different times and places.  But, you might say, we already have two similar names on the Tabula and, in any event, as we mentioned before, perhaps the same name was applied to a different people (i.e., the later Slavic one).

There is, however, a second interesting thing about this or a similar name.  Rarog or Raróg has a Slavic etymology.  It means a type of a falcon (or, etymologically, of a raven).  What’s more it is falcon that seems to have a religious connotation to Slavs.  Further, rarog, like Svarog or tvarog are words that are undoubtedly Slavic and are ancient (see Aleksander Brückner’s comment that it is a Slavic “ur-word”).



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February 11, 2015

Polabian Gods Part Va – Saxo Grammaticus on the Temple at Arkona

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There are four surviving fragments of Gesta Danorum (i.e., that’s it as regards manuscripts – that we know of).  One of them is the Plesner fragment which covers a few pages out of Book 14 of the chronicle.  Although this fragment contains no mention of Slavic Gods it does discuss Slavs themselves.


We include it here along with the corresponding pages from the 1839 edition of the work (for easier reading).  Other than that, since the Latin version can easily be obtained here, we present the text in the English language.


The events described here are occurring in 1168, after the conversion of Pomerania, after the so-called Wendish Crusade and after the fall of the Obotrite Duke Niklot.  Pressed on all sides, Arkona stood alone.  Almost exactly 100 years earlier (1067), Rethra was destroyed.  A hundred or so years later it was going to be the turn of the Baltic Prussians.


Specifically, Saxo’s Book 14, discusses in detail the Danes’ various murderous expeditions led by King Valdemar or by Bishop Absalon against Ruegen (as well as against the Norwegians and Pomeranians) finally coming to coup de grace at Arkona where the Ranii (also pressed by the German Saxons from the South) simply ran out of people to defend their town against the Danes (and, in this case, too the recently Christian (see story of Bishop Otto which is to come) Slavic Pomeranians who, after their conversion, were required to accompany the Danes (and apparently did a splendid job).  We do not delve into the expeditions themselves in detail – instead we focus on the religious aspects of the text and events at and immediately after the siege of Arkona.


Because of the length of Saxo’s description, we break it up into several chapters (of our own making).  Here is Chapter 1, let’s call it “The Temple at Arkona “.



The Temple at Arkona

“The King [Valdemar I the Great of Denmark] now attacked Ruegen in different places and won booty everywhere but did not find an occasion to fight and desiring the enemy’s blood he began to besiege Arkona.”

Kap Arkona | RŸgen

Arkona – had the Ranii warning sign been in Danish, perhaps things would have turned out differently

“This town lies on top of a tall cliff and is well fortified from the East, South and North, not by men but by nature, for the steep sides of the cliff rise, as if walls, so high that no arrow could reach the top.  From these three sides it is also protected by the sea, but from the Western side it is surrounded by a wall that is fifty elbows tall, of which the lower part is made out of earth but the top part was of wooden construction reinforced/filled in with [torfus].  On the North side there is a stream, which the locals would reach by means of a reinforced path, which Erik [II] Emune in his time blocked, so that he defeated them during the siege not just by a force of arms but also by denying them water.”


Danish Vikings used all kinds of nefarious distractions while they attacked the Arkonians

“In the middle of the town there was an open space, on which there stood a wooden temple built in an unusually intricate manner, which temple was greatly venerated, not only on account of its grandeur but also by reason of the fact that it contained a statue of a God.  From the outside the temple drew one’s gaze due to a variety of well-sculpted [pictures/effigies/statues?] which, however, were primitively and carelessly painted over.  There was only one entrance but the temple itself was divided into two separate parts, of which the external one run along the walls and had a red ceiling, whereas the internal one was supported by four pillars and in lieu of walls it had curtains and was not touching/did not have common parts with the external part save the ceiling itself and certain logs.”


Temple Outside

“In the temple there stood the aforementioned statue of superhuman proportions.  It had four heads and that many necks, of which two were turned towards the front and two towards the back.  And likewise of the two heads turned front and also the two heads looking back, one looked left and the other right. [The statue’s] face was clean-shaven as regards the beard and its hair was cut indicating that the artist who sculpted the statue had in mind the custom [of shaving/hair styling] common among the Rugii.”


Temple Inside

“In its right hand the statue held a horn crafted of different metals, which horn was filled once a year by the priest and from the behavior of the drink he foretold the quality of the next year’s harvest.  The left arm of the statue was bent and pressed against the side.  The tunic reached its legs which were made of different types of wood and so intricately/discretely attached to the knees that only a careful inspection revealed the connections.  The feet were standing entirely on the floor but that on which it [the state] stood was hidden in the ground.  Nearby one could see a bridle and a saddle as well as other insignia, of which especially astounding was an unusual huge sword, whose scabbard and hilt were made out of silver and splendidly ornamented by wonderful craftsmanship.”


“The worship of the God took place in the following manner: once a year, when the harvest was coming to an end, the entire people of the island assembled in front of the temple, offerings were made of cattle and a solemn meal was eaten to honor the Gods.  The priest, who, not following the usual custom of most people of this country, had a long hair and a beard and, usually on the day before the holiday went to the temple, whose doorstep only he had the right to cross, to clean and carefully prepare everything, whereby he had to hold his breath, so that every time he needed to draw air he had to rush to the door, so that the God would not be contaminated by some man breathing in his presence/near him.”

Waiting at temple gates during a "big cake year"

Waiting at temple gates during a “big cake year”

“The following day, when the people camped out by the temple doors, the priest took the horn from the statue’s hand and carefully examined it to see whether the drink in it was evaporating, which was taken to be a warning that the harvest would be poor the next year, in which case he [the priest] obligated the people to save something of their current harvest for next year.  If the drink did not disappear, that foretold a bountiful year.  Thus, depending on what the horn predicted, he ordered the people either to save their harvests or to use them till they be sated.  Next he poured the wine as an offering at the feet of the statue, filled the horn anew and pretended as if he had drunk to honor him [the God], while at the same time he asked with lofty words for success/good luck for himself and the people of the country, for riches and for victory, and after that he brought the horn to his lips and drank all of it in one gulp, and thereafter he filled the horn again and placed it in the statue’s right hand.”


Altenkirchen (between Arkona and Glowe, i.e., head) Church has this stone “built-in” with cornucopia, the horn of plenty on hand

“There was also there as an offering an oval-shaped honey cake which stood almost as tall as a man.  The priest would place it between himself and the people and asked thereafter whether they could see him [from behind the cake].  When they answered him, he then wished them that next year they should not see him, whereby the meaning of this was such that he did not mean death to himself or the people but rather that the next year should be bountiful [i.e., and the cake bigger].”

They could not see him that year

They could not see him that year

“Next he blessed his people in the name of their God, told them that they should honor Him with frequent offerings, which he expected as a the right payment for [their] victories on the land and sea.  And when this was done, they spent the rest of the day on a great feast, where they ate the offerings [for the God], so that that which was consecrated for the God they themselves ate.  At this feast, it was believed pleasing to the God to get drunk and as a sin to remain sober.”

“To support the religion’s needs every man and woman had to pay annually one coin, and God also received one third of the booty that they plundered for they believed that they should thank Him for His help.  He was also given three hundred horses and that many warriors who fought for Him and who had to give to the priest all of their booty whether it was captured  with weapons or stolen; for this money that came there for that reason, he commanded the making of all kinds of precious ornaments and adornments for the temple, which he kept in locked chests, in which in addition to lots of money there were kept too rich clothes, which were entirely destroyed by passage of time, as also the many offerings, some from the people and some from individual persons, which were given to them/to the temple to obtain happiness and success.”


not wasting gold on crucifixes here

All of the Slavic lands venerated this God by paying [tribute to Him], and even the neighboring kings gave offerings to Him, not paying attention to the committed sacrilege [of so doing].  Among others, the King of Denmark Svend Grathe [Sweyn III – killed by Valdemar after Sweyn attempted to kill Valdemar and others] donated a wonderfully crafted cup so as to gain the favor of the God, for which sacrilege he then paid by his unlucky demise.  This God had too other temples in the different places, but none was so venerated as the one at Arkona.”

“He also had his own holy white horse and it was seen as sacrilege to rip a hair from his mane or tail, and no one other than the priest was permitted to feed him or ride him, so that this divine animal should not lose its dignified appearance, by reason of it being frequently used.  The Rugii believed that on this horse, Svantovit – that is the how they named the God – would ride when he fought against the enemies of his Holiness, and they saw special proof of this in that, in spite of the fact that during the night he remained in the stables, in the morning he was often wet and sweaty, as if he had come straight from battle and rode a long way [back].”


Svantovit horse approaching after a night out

“They also read warnings from the horse’s behaviour in the following way: when war was intended with one country or another, it was the custom of the temple attendants to stick six spears into the ground in pairs of two where the shafts of each such pair would cross and where the spear pairs would be equidistant.  When the troop was to march out, the priest gave a solemn prayer and thereafter he led the horse in a harness from the [temple] foyer and led so that he had to jump in front of [or through] the spears.  Should the horse lift the right leg ahead of the left, they took that to mean that the war will be successful.  But should he have raised only one time [i.e., once out of the three] the left leg as the first, they gave up on their expedition and would not even raise anchors until such time that they saw him [the horse] jumping three times through the spears in such a manner that they took to be a good omen [i.e., right leg ahead of the left].”


When the auguries were good, it was time to set sail

“Also when they were to set out in other matters, they took the augury from the first encountered animal.  If the augury was favorable, they rode further happy, if it were not they then quickly went back home.  It was also not unknown to them to throw lots, they threw, namely, on their lap three pieces of wood as lots, they were white on one side and black on the other and white meant luck and black meant misfortune.  Even the women did not avoid such practices.  When they sat at a fire sometimes they drew random lines in the ash and counted them together.  If the number was even they believed that that portended good fortune, when it was odd, though, they took that as a bad sign.”


Arkona is also the site of over 300 (confirmed) shipwrecks

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February 7, 2015

Reports of the Slavs from Muslim Lands Part V – Testimony of Masudi on Slavic Gods and Temples

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The below is is taken from the same Masudi report (in “The Meadows of Gold”) as discussed previously here.  Now, however, we focus on religion in more depth.  (BTW the locations of the various temples, as shown in the pictures, are purely speculative – we lay no claim on knowing whether these correspond to any of the temples mentioned by Masudi).

There are two translation sources here.  Most of the passages come from the Paul Lunde edition (including a portion that mentions a town administrator – Ahmad ibn Kuyah – one has to ask the question whether Ahmad’s father (or some other relative) wasn’t in fact Kuy as in the legendary founder Kiyev).  That section is supplemented by a separate translation of another paragraph.

The other section on the temples comes from Chapter 66 of the Prairies d’or (French translation with an Arabic edition) aka Muruj al-dhahab by Barbier de Meynard and Pavet de Courteille published in 1861-1877.


Lunde translation – chapter 11 (The Khazars)

“The king, his court and all those of the Khazar race practice Judaism, to which the king of the Khazars was converted during the reign of Harun al-Rashid.  Many Jews from Muslim and Byzantine cities came to settle among the Khazars, particularly since Romanus I, the king of the Byzantines in our own time, 332/943, forced the Jews in his kingdom to convert to Christianity.  Further on in this volume we shall give the history of the rulers of Byzantium, which we shall set out in order, and shall speak of this king as well as the two other rulers who shared power with him.  A great number of Jews therefore fled from the land of the Byzantines and sought refuge with the Khazars.  This is not the place to speak of the conversion of the Khazar ruler to Judaism, as we have already discussed this subject in our previous works.” 

“The pagans who live in this country belong to many different races, among which are the Slavs and the Rus, who live in one of the two parts of the city.  They burn their dead on pyres along with the deceased’s horses, arms and equipment.  When a mans dies, his wife is burned alive with him, but if the wife dies before he husband, the man does not suffer the same fate.  If a man dies before marriage, he is given a posthumous wife.  The omen passionately want to be burned because they believe they will enter paradise.  This is a custom, as we have already mentioned, that is current in India but with this difference: there, the woman is not burned unless she give her consent.”  

“As regards the pagans in this land (Khazar Khaganate), there are different peoples/races that are pagan – amongst them the Slavs (Saqaliba) and the Rus (Rus).  They live in the same part of this city (the capital).  They burn their dead together with their beasts of burden/animals, their weapons and armor and their jewelry.  When a man dies his woman is also burnt with him alive; but when the wife dies her man is not burnt with her.  And when an unmarried [man] dies, he is married after his death.  The women want to be burnt [of their own volition] to be able to enter paradise with their spouse…” [this is the same passage as paragraph above – just different translation]

“The Muslims are dominant in the land of the Khazars because they make up the king’s army.  They are known by the name Arsiya.  They originally came from the region around Khwarizm, and settled in the Khazar kingdom a long time ago, shortly after the appearance of Islam, when they fled the double ravages of famine and plague that devastated their homeland.  These are strong, courageous men, in whom the king of the Khazars places his confidence in the wars which he wages.  When they established themselves in his kingdom they stipulated, among other things, that they be allowed the free exercise of their religion, that they might have mosques and publicly give the call to prayer, and that the king’s chief minister should be chose tom among their number.  In our days the one who occupies this post is a Muslim named Ahmad ibn Kuyah.  He has made an agreement with the king where by he and his army will not fight against Muslims, but will march into battle against the infidel.  Today, around 7000 of them serve as the king’s mounted archers.  They carry a shield and wear helmets and chain mail.  They also have lancers equipped and armed like other Muslim soldiers.”

“They also have their own qadis.  It is a rigid custom in the Khazar capital that there should be seven judges: two for the Muslims; two for the Khazars, who make their decisions in accordance with the Torah; two for the Christians, whom make theirs according to the Gospels; and one for the Slavs, Rus and other pagans.  This latter judge follows the pagan law, which is the product of natural reason.  When a serious case comes up that the judges cannot decide, the parties involved consult the Muslim qadis and obey the decision made in accordance with Islamic law.  The king of the Khazars is the only ruler of these eastern countries to have a paid army.  All the Muslims who live the  country are known as Arsirya.”

“The Rus and the Slavs, who are pagans as we have said, sever as mercenaries and slaves of the king.  Besides the Arsirya there are a certain number of Muslim merchants and artisans who have emigrated to the is country because of the justice and security with which the king rules.  In addition to the congregational mosque, whose minaret towers over the king’s palace, there are many other mosques to which are attached schools where the Qur’an is taught to children.  if the Muslims and the Christians united, the king would have no power over them.”


Meynard/Courteille edition – chapter 66

“The Slavs have many temples.  One of these buildings lies on a mountain, of which the Philosophers/wisemen say that it is one of the tallest mountains in the world.  This building is famous on account of its architecture, on account of the different types of and different colors of [precious] stones and on account of the elaborate [games/rites or mechanisms] [that take place or are] on its top, and also too because the rising Sun appears in those elaborate mechanisms [reflects?], likewise because of the jewels and works of art that are brought there and through which the future is shown [oracular devices], and likewise, because of these jewels accidents can be prevented upfront, and finally because of the voices that one hears from the top [of the building] and the effect that these [voices/sounds] have.”


Who knew?

“Another building was built further by one of their kings on a black mountain.  It is surrounded by wonderful waters of different colours and uses and [which waters] have many uses.  They have there a great God statue there in the shape of a man who has taken on the look of an old man.  In his hand he has a staff with which he raises the bones of the dead [skeletons?] from the crypts.  Under his right foot there are figures of different types of ants [?] and under the other, there are black birds [garabib/garabin], also figures of ravens [crows/kruki?] and others, so too different and strange figures Abyssinians and blacks [Zanzibarians?].”

[oh yes, a bent staff of a priest or judge is called a krakula as one of our readers correctly notes]


Cracow’s Krak or Krakus mound – from its top you can see the sun rise over the Wanda mound on May 2nd and August 10 – about a quarter of a year apart – looking the other way from Wanda we get November 4 and February 6 and therefore… something  – similarly situated mounds are in the Przemysl area

“A further building they have on a mountain surrounded by sea.  It is built out of red coral and emeralds.  In the middle is a huge dome, under which there is a statute of a God with limbs made out of four different precious stones, green chrysolite, red ruby, yellow carnelian and white crystal and the head is made out of red gold.  Opposite from him there stands another God statue with the shape of a young woman who os shown offering him [the first God] gifts and fragrances. One used to ascribe this building to a ruler they [Slavs] had had in the distant past.  We have reported about him, about his rule in the lands of the Slavs, his machinations and wiles, [which he employed] in order to win their hearts, so as to rule them and bewitch them – and that despite the evil of the character of the Slavs and their contrarian predisposition, how we have shown above in our book.”


Arkona – surrounded by the sea – on the peninsula of Wittow – the mountain may be (stretching here) “Gora” or today’s Bergen auf Rügen


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February 4, 2015