Monthly Archives: March 2015

Polabian Gods Part Vc – Meanwhile at the (Continuing) Siege of Arkona

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We continue here with another installment of the siege of Arkona (yes, in English) as told by our friend Saxo Grammaticus.  The prior parts are here as well as here.

The Soldiers Prepare While the Youth Cannot Bear to Be Contained

“In the meantime the army began all kinds of works demanded by a siege; some were building sheds for the horses, others raised tents and undertook different necessary things.  While the King, by reason of the great heat that was present during the day, took quiet refuge in his tent, Danish boys, who in their excitement dared to approach the fortified wall, began to sling stones at the fortifications.”


Viking children were ever so cute

“The Arkonians seemed rather amused by these ideas and refrained from using weapons against such play so that they preferred to look at the boys rather than to chase them away.”


The Arkonians continued to be unimpressed

“There also appeared there young men who began to compete with the boys in provoking the inhabitants in the same way [i.e., by slinging stones].  And these [the inhabitants] became bored with idly watching and forced to do so grabbed their weapons.  More of the youth now dropped their work and ran so as to relieve their companions but the knights viewed all this as children’s play.”

Playing with Fire or Things Get out of Hand

“Thus, something that in the beginning had no importance and that would not otherwise deserve mention, quickly escalated into a violent fight which could not be any longer ignored and child’s play grew into a serious battle amongst men.  The earth that filled up the gate collapsed in the meantime somewhat and there a hole or a fissure was formed therein such that there became a large opening between the tower and the turf wall.  This was noticed by an unusually brave young man, of whom truthly not much more is known, and he noticed that a good occasion arose to bring about what had been planned all along; he asked his companions that they should help him climb up and should they do that, so would the city be immediately taken and  victory achieved.  When they asked him how they could be helpful to him, he said that they should stick their spears in-between the turf patches so that he could climb up on them as if on a ladder.  When he so made his way upwards and saw that inside this hole he could be sure that the enemies could not cause him harm, then he demanded some straw that he could set on fire.”


The brave young Dane’s idea saved countless (Danish) lives

“When they asked him whether he had something to start the fire with, he answered that he did have fire steel and flint and told them that they should help him get down once the fire starts up.  When they looked for something to start the fire with, that which they looked for just happened into their hands.  There came there someone with a wagon full of straw that was meant to be used for something entirely different.  They took this from him and tossed bundles of straw to each other and passed them on spears up to this young man and soon the entire hole was filled with straw and all this happened without any danger for the tower was entirely abandoned.  The inhabitants, namely, had no idea what was happening there and the enormous size of the tower also served to deceive them and the wide piles of earth on each side served to provide cover for the Danes.  When the fire started and the tower stood in flames, the one who had set the fire and so took the first step towards giving his companions victory, climbed, with their aid, down.”

Oh, Crap

“When the inhabitants noticed smoke they were so shocked by this unexpected danger that they did not know whether they should rush to put out the fire or to attach the enemy and when they finally calmed down then with all their strength they went to fight the fire and began to try to put it out without paying attention to the enemy, whereas the Danes tried to impede their firefighting efforts and they tried to keep the fire going with the same determination as the others were fighting it. ” 


Arkona – main temple complex on fire (the head priest’s horseless carriage WAS saved – a bittersweet solace)

“When the Arkonians finally ran out of water, they poured milk onto the flames, but the more they poured, the more did the flames erupt and so the result of all this was that the fire was rapidly spreading.”

Absalon Takes Charge

“All these screams and yells roused the King to come out of the camp and see what was happening there and when he saw how things stood he was confused and could not judge rightly whether this fire would be of importance/helpful to taking the city and therefore he asked Absalon, what they should be doing.  He [Absalon] asked the King not to get involved in child play, and not to jump into something prematurely, before the whole matter has been examined, and asked strongly for permission for him to go and investigate closer to see if the fire could help him [the King] take the town.”


Absalon (left) takes charge at Arkona

“He [Absalon] then left without delay to investigate the situation and approached the gate only wearing a helm and carrying a shield, and he called on the young men who were trying to storm the gate for them to spread the fire.  Those now fueled the fire from all sides so that the columns and supports became engulfed in flames and the floor of the tower burned down and flame rose to the top and turned all the banners of [their] God and other insignia into ash.”

The King Casually Enjoys the Slaughter From a Distance

“When Absalon reported all this to the King, he [the King] ordered, upon Absalon’s urging, to surround the city and [then] the King] sat down on a chair to outside the camp to watch the fighting.”


Given his age King Valdemar mostly enjoyed sitting, watching and playing with… but that children is another story

“A certain brave young Danish man was hellbent on reaching the earthwork first ahead of the others and when he was mortally wounded he made it seem as if he had jumped down [from storming the ramparts?] of his own volition rather than being tossed down [by the enemy] so that it is difficult to say whether he earned greater glory fighting or dying.  The Pomeranians who had the privilege to fight in front of the King also showed uncommon bravery attacking the town under the leadership [of their dukes] Kazimir and Boguslav and King looked at them with admiration and satisfaction seeing them fight so wonderfully.”

“When the Rugians were thus twice placed in danger many fell to the fire whereas others fell to the spear and no one could tell whether they should be more afraid of the fire or of the enemy, but some forsook their own welfare and defended the town with such firmness and relentlessness that they did not succumb until the burning ramparts lay in ruins and those who fell on the city’s walls were consumed by the same flames as if on a common pyre;”


The times they were different

“for they harbored such great love for the walls of their native city that they much preferred to fail together with them than to live through their collapse.”

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

March 28, 2015

On the Far North

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We have mentioned that the God Jassa seems to have been worshipped among the Ilmen Slavs (the name does sound vaguely Finnish, maybe?).  Lake Ilmen far in the (European) Russian North.  Further North and East is Lake Onega.  if you go a bit further East you get to a town called Kargopol.  It sits on the River Onega which empties into the White Sea.  The river starts, however, at another lake, not too far from Kargopol.  Here is a copy of a 19th century Gazetteer of the World (Volume 5) that describes the name of that lake.


In fact, the same is confirmed by a 1720 French map of the region (Yacz):


A 1568 Italian one seems less clear on the point (Ossoisera?):


Interestingly, the lake’s current (or perhaps alternative?) name appears to be Ozero Lacha or Lach Lake.   Maybe one name is Slavic and the other Ugro-Finnic?  Perhaps.


We are aware that “jassa” in North Saami (in Skolt Saami it is jocc or jece) means a patch of snow (up in the mountains in the summer) (see, for example, “On Germanic-Saami contacts and Saami prehistory” by Ante Aikio.  (Ante… Antes… Antes.  Hmmmm!) so there is a perfectly legitimate Saami explanation.  But someone might claim that a summer patch of snow does seem “light” i.e., “jasny” in comparison to whatever it lies on.

But we also know that Norwegian Sami also refer to lakes that are not quite lakes but not quite puddles either as “jassa” (see the Book of Informatics by Gammack, Hobbs and Pigott) and this is after all a lake.  But the Saami do not live that far south (this actually is south for the Saami!).  And as for the Lacha – well, for one thing, Kargopol was at one point besieged by a Polish-Lithuanian army so maybe that’s the source of the name or maybe it comes from Łacha or something like that.

Of course, all of this is more that likely.

On the other hand, it may be that it is not Saami that we should be focusing on but the Veps people.  After all it is the Veps people that live in the area of Lake Lacha.  You might say, ok, so what?  Well, there is something interesting in a 2014 genetic study of Europeans by Peter A. Underhill, et al.  That study has become a focus of many a discussion but we will not try to engage in polemics regarding the study’s main findings.  Rather we merely point out this curious diagram found on the pages of the Underhill study.  It shows the relative closeness (within the R1a group) of the various Slavic and certain other peoples (really geographic locations).  They are so close that they need to blow out the box in the lower left corner to show differences between them.  Makes sense?  Now look closer at “Poland” and what’s next to it.


That’s kind of a fun fact of the day.

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

March 27, 2015

On Lippe or Lipa

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Strabo (Book 7, 1)

“Both the Visurgis and the Lupias (Λουπίας) Rivers run in the same direction as the Amasias, the Lupias being about six hundred stadia distant from the Rhenus and flowing through the country of the Lesser Bructeri.”

Pomponius Mela (Book 3, 30)

“Of the rivers that pass into the territories of other peoples, the most famous are the Danube and the Rhodanus; of those that go into th Rhenus, the Moenis and the Lupia; and of those that go into the Ocean, the Amissis, the Visurgis, and the Albis.  On the other side of the Albis, the huge Codanus Bay is filled with big and small islands.”

(Montium altissimi Taunus et Retico, nisi quorum nomina vix est eloqui ore Romano. Amnium in alias gentes exeuntium Danuvius et Rhodanus, in Rhenum Moenis et Lupia, in oceanum Amissis, Visurgis et Albis clarissimi.)

(BTW Codanus sounds to us like Godanus or Gdansk – supposedly it refers to the Baltic Sea although the reference seems to be more to parts closer to Denmark like Mecklemburg)

Cassius Dio (Roman History, Book, 54,33,1)

At the beginning of spring he sent out again for the war, crossed the Rhine, and subjugated the Usipetes. He bridged the Lupia (Λουπία or Λουπίας), invaded the country of the Sugambri, and advanced through it into the country of the Cherusci, as far as the Visurgis.

(ἅμα δὲ τῷ ἦρι πρὸς τὸν πόλεμον αὖθις ὥρμησε, καὶ τόν τε Ῥῆνον ἐπεραιώθη καὶ τοὺς Οὐσιπέτας κατεστρέψατο, τόν τε Λουπίαν ἔζευξε καὶ ἐς τὴν τῶν Συγάμβρων ἐνέβαλε, καὶ δι´ αὐτῆς καὶ ἐς τὴν Χερουσκίδα προεχώρησε μέχρι τοῦ Οὐισούργου.)

Marcus Velleius Paterculus writes (History of Rome, Book 2, Chapter 105,3):

“The prolonging of the campaign of that year into the month of December increased the benefits derived from the great victory. Caesar was drawn to the city by his filial affection, though the Alps were almost blocked by winter’s snows; but the defence of the empire brought him at the beginning of spring back to Germany, where he had on his departure pitched his winter camp at the source of the river Lupiae, in the very heart of the country, the first Roman to winter there.”

(Pietas sua Caesarem paene obstructis hieme Alpibus in urbem traxit, at tutela imperii eum veris initio reduxit in Germaniam, in cuius mediis finibus ad caput Lupiae fluminis hiberna digrediens princeps locaverat.)

Tacitus (Histories, Book 5, 22)

“The enemy rowed back in broad daylight with the captured vessels. The praetorian trireme they towed up the river Lupia as a present to Veleda.”

(multa luce revecti hostes, captivis navibus, praetoriam triremem flumine Lupia donum Veledae [oh, yes, Veleda] traxere.)

Tacitus (Germania, 32)

“When the Sigambri removed to Gaul, the Usipii and Tencteri became masters of their possessions on the Lupia.”

Tacitus (Annals, Book 1, 60)

“The army then advanced to the extreme limits of the territory of the Bructeri and laid waste all the land lying between the rivers Amisia and Lupia…” [actually Lupiam in the accusative case]

Later Formulations

Also include Lippia and iuxta Lippiam.


There are others that write the same (Ptolemy) and Tacitus names the river Lupia three other times.  Currently, the river is, of course, called Lippe and it courses through Westphalia all the way to the Rhine.

If we move East from those parts we arrive in Leipzig.  The name of Leipzig comes from the Slavic word Lipsk which refers to the Linden trees (“Latin” medieval spelling was Lipsia).  The Slavic word for a linden tree is Lipa.  (The Slovenians apparently always very much honored linden trees but that is, perhaps, a topic for another time.)

So the Slavs clearly lived where Leipzig is now.  They lived to the Elbe River where they arrived coming from the East after the fall of the Roman Empire and the outmigration of the Germanic tribes.  Lippe, is far to the West of the Elbe and, of course, no one claims that the Slavs ever reached the Lippe.  Right?

…what is interesting, however, is that Lippe also appears in the Ravenna Cosmography, not as Lippe or Lupia but as Lippa:


Now, Kreis Lippe, where the River Lippe flows, is where the ancient Teutoburger Forest was (where Varus got a fat lip, so to speak, and lost his legions to the Germans of Arminius – BTW the Lippe, appropriately, originates at the site of today’s Arminiuspark).  Apparently, some ancient trees are present there to this day such as this one:


What type of tree is this?

About “Lippes alte Bäume und Wälder” you can read here at this very nice site.  One type of tree, it seems, is mentioned there the most – just search for Linde – the Germanic word for a lipa tree.  Are you ready to ask ‘what gives?’

PS Another name for Lippe was Asna (does that sound like jasna, i.e., the light one?) – see Maurits Gysseling.

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

March 27, 2015

On the Coins of the Caesars

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Since we brought up Pavel Josef Šafařík  a few days ago, we thought we ought to mention a few other items outs of his composition of Slavic Antiquities (Slovanské starožitnosti or, in German, Slawische Alterthuemer).  One of these is a coin inscription dated to the times of the Emperor Volusian, a third century Roman emperor.  Šafařík thought it relevant because in the inscription there is a mention of a Vend.  If in fact, that Vend refers to the Veneti or Venedi, then there we would have proof of Roman contact and wars with the Veneti already in the third century.  Moreover, the campaigns of Volusian place him roughly in the neighborhood of where the later Slavs appeared, the same Slavs who, along with Antes, were derived by Jordanes from the Veneti.

There are a number of these relatively common coins in existence and no one will become rich selling one.  Here is one example:


The inscription on the coin reads something like (there are, of course, variations, see below for a complete list):


Now, everyone agrees that the reason for this rather inconvenient placement of the letters is due to the limitations of the numismatic real estate.  Further, there is agreement that “IMP” [sometimes on some coins “IM”] means “Imperatori” (or some variation thereof), that “VOLUSIANO” [occassionally on other coins “VOLUSSIANUS”] means “Volusianus” and that “AVG” means “Augusto,” “Augustus” (or some variation thereof).  Beyond that, there is, as usual, some disagreement.

So what is beyond that? All the bold letters in the middle below:



Šafařík claims that what the above says is:


and that that translates into:

Caesari VAndalico, Finnico, GALindico, VENDico

Essentially, he says the coin honors the Emperor as the conqueror of various peoples such as the Vandals, the Finns (!), Galls and the Venethi.


Eckhel offers a different view saying that the above means:

Caio Vibio AFinio* GALallo VENDumniano

*(or Afino)

This last word apparently presents closer to an inscription found by Muratori which said Veldumnianus/Veldumniano.  This piece of information comes from Gustave Horn in his book Le Compromis de 1868 wherein he cites Description historique des monnaies frappes sous l’Empire romain by Henry Cohen and continued by Feuardent (2nd edition), tome V, page 266 note 2.  We have not been able to confirm this.

Vaillant is closer to Schafarik with:

Caio VAndalico Finnico GALindico VENDenico


Bottom Line

So we basically have two choices:




In other words, either this is a list of Volusian’s exploits and conquest with his name taking on all of the names of the conquered or defeated tribes or it is also his name but one that was simply given to him and has nothing to with his forays and activities.

What do we Know of this Guy?

Not much is the answer.  Nor was he much of an Emperor.  It all started in the reign of Emperor Decius.  Decius was engaged with the Goths’s King Cniva (supposedly meaning “knife” making you ask what such translator would make out of, e.g., Cniga) when his son and then he fell in battle (first Roman Emperor killed by barbarians as far as we can tell).  Decius’ campaign occurred in Moesia Superior.  The governor of that province was Trebonianus Gallus.  Upon the fall of the Emperor, Trebonianus Gallus was proclaimed Emperor by the local troops.  He named Hostilian, the other son of Decius, co-emperor (Augustus) while making his own son Volusianus Caesar (a step below divinity).  More relevantly, he also signed a treaty with the Goths allowing them to leave Roman territory with booty and captives and requiring the Romans to pay tribute (in the form of an annual “subsidy”) to the Goths – in effect, making payments to the barbarians so as to have them keep the peace.  Needless to say the treaty was not popular in Rome or among the Romans.

After Trebonianus returned to Rome, he stumbled onto a plague break out which was ravaging the city.  Apparently, Hostilian died in that plague.  Thereupon Trebonianus named Volusian his new co-emperor.  The year was A.D. 251.  After that things quickly spiraled downwards.  The Empire was invaded in multiple parts and the Emperor was not there to protect it  Those who did decided that they would make better emperors.  In the East, Uranius Antoninus defeated the Persian invaders.  He then proclaimed himself Emperor.  But, more importantly for Trebonianus and Volusian, Terbonianus’ replacement as governor of Moesia Superior, Aemilius Aemilianus refused to pay the tribute and defeated the invading Goths.  Thereupon, the Moesian legions proclaimed Aemilianus Emperor.  Aemilianus too thought he’d make an excellent Emperor, stripped Moesia of troops  and headed for Rome.  Forced to act Trebonianus Gallus and Volusian marched (slowly) against Aemilianus.  Their troops, however, were not inspired and,  judging the duo’s chances to be low or at least lower than those of Aemilianus, displayed initiative and proactively killed both Emperors in August of A.D. 253 joining with Aemilianus.

Post Scriptum

For what it’s worth Aemilianus too did not in the end inspire too much confidence and, when Trabonianus Gallus’ and Volusian’s reinforcements arrived (conveniently belatedly) in the persona of Valerian, the Rhine governor, the troops of Aemilianus (no doubt including the mutineers of Gallus’ and Volusian) went over to Valerian.  Oh, and yes, they did kill Aemilianus before hand.  Valerian’s rule lasted about ten years but then he was betrayed by Shapur of Persia and became the first Roman Emperor to die in captivity.  Since Valerian was not fond of Christians who festered in strength in Rome at this time, Christian chroniclers took pleasure in his capture and came up with elaborate stories regarding the nature of Valerian’s death at the hands of Shapur (being forced to swallow molten gold, etc).

To make a Long Story Short(er)

In light of this, it seems unlikely that Volusian being such a non-entity was venerated with any kinds of tributes relating to his victories over Gauls, Finns (!) or Veneti.  Nonetheless, the matter is not clearly settled and, in deference to Šafařík, we publish this article.

We also note that the Tabula Peutingeriana which may well be (in its sources) dated to the 3rd century does show the Veneti (as Venedi) close to the mouth of the Danube and that these campaigns against the Goths that Volusian participated in or at least was witness to from the vantage point of his father’s governorship in Moesia Superior would have been relatively close to that area.


If someone were interested in a more through examination of the coins we list them all below – perhaps the examination of the reverse side of these coins will provide some clues that, currently, escape us. 


Variations on the Venetic Volusian Coin

These are the various variations, so to speak on actual coins (separations are, of course, a matter of interpretation).  Most of these were apparently minted in Antioch, though some may have been minted in Rome:










Other Volusian Coins








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March 24, 2015

On Thor’s Hammer

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We have hinted here, here and here and sorta here at what we think one solution to the Slavic puzzle may be.

What if Suavs (or Slavs if you follow the Southern or Eastern pronunciation rite) are Suevi?

What would such a Suevic theory look like?  Perhaps something like this:

Central Europe

Central Europe – remains “proto” Slavic; if one wants to include the Veneti of Bretagne in the mix, one can but does not have to; we can also either assume that the Veneti in Sarmatia are Slavic or that they are Balts – either way works.

Northern Europe & Wanderlust

Scandinavia is full of Germanic tribes; it is, in fact, teeming with them. Periodically, much like the Vikings later on, the Scandinavian tribes of Germans either due to overpopulation or Wanderlust or a mix of the two or some other reason set out away from Scandinavia; they do so through the main and most easiest pathway into Europe, i.e., Jutland of the earlier Cimbri or today’s Denmark.

Thor’s Hammer Comes Down

They encounter those Suevi or proto-Suevi that live on the border of today’s Germany and France, subdue them or assimilate them and press on.  Why?  Because the good stuff is in the South – the Sun, the beaches, the women, the really fast chariots with spoilers – in other words, civilization.  The process takes hundreds of years as the funnel keeps sending forth new hordes always southwards.  Whatever Suevic tribes existed in their path become Germanized; others become the Suevi of Tacitus retreating beyond the Rhine; yet others retreat westwards towards Bretagne.


It really is THAT big

In a way Europe and the Slavic lands are cloven asunder by these northern invaders (though, again, the “cleaving” can be left aside if we forgo the Veneti of Bretagne but we are not yet ready to do so, so let the cleaving go on).

Eventually, these new mixed peoples – let’s call them Galls – make it to the Alps and push around them on both sides.  A kind of Thor’s Hammer forms with the handle reaching up to Scandinavia but the head of it pressed against the Alps.  Finally, the Galls begin to raid Italy just as Rome rises.

The Roman Conquest

At the time of Caesar, all of Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and most of France is firmly in the hands of these people.  True Germans in the North, through mixed Galls in France, all the way to borders of Italy.  The –riks in the Germanic North and the –rix in the Gallic South.  Ceasar strikes out against them and we end up at Alesia with the defeat of Vercingetorix.  There follow Caesar’s campaigns against the people in the East who, by the quasi-Germanic Galls, are called the new name Germani.  We ought to note that some of those tribes are at that time already Germanized  (those who were closest to the funnel) though they may yet retain their Slavic Suevi name, e.g., the Angles who were first in the path of this tornado.  This may also be true of warriors of Ariovistus – but not necessarily.  Others, in Central Europe and further East remain Slavic.

The Second Opening – the Hammer Strikes Back

A few hundred years later (150-300), Scandinavians (perhaps some Goths and perhaps too the Vandals) launch a second wave of attacks.  Some of those come down over Jutland and hit the Alps heading eastwards.  In fact, some of those are also called Juthungi suggesting their origin, elsewhere once mingled with the locals they become Alamanni (i.e., all kinds of people or as we say these days, a mob).


You WILL let my people go (to Italian beaches)!

All of these continue to Germanize their conquered peoples if not right away then over time.  This includes all or most of the Western Suevi – now Svebi or Schwaben.  In fact, it may be conjectured that the Schwaben become to Suevi what 19th century Prussians were to original Baltic Prussians, i.e., the original people gave the name to the country and when they were conquered the country gave the name to their conquerors.  Some of them may be Suevi, mixed in with the Juthungi and all the other Alamanni but the Suevic element is now a substratum.

As for the original Suevi?  Well, the last time anyone hears from them before the 5th century is about the year 150 A.D.  It seems more than plausible that they retreated further East away from the freeway of Thor’s people.

The Third Act – the Heereswanderungen 

Other Northerners appear in the East, landing at Gothiscandza either in Pomerania or further East, perhaps coming over Latvia or Finland.

Some (Central) Suevi, however, hide somewhere – perhaps in the Carpathian mountains or their foothills, perhaps in the deep woods of the Vistula in Poland or in Prussia – a huge number of people squeezed into a tight space results in a synchronization of their previously disparate language such that – of those Suevi they all speak the same language afterwards.

Other Eastern Suevi (perhaps including some of those who earlier had hidden themselves) get swept up by the Goths of Ermanaric and pushed towards the Black Sea.  When the Goths are driven out by the Huns, some of these Suevi shake loose.

On the other hand, the Suevi of the West are by that time partly/mostly (?) Germanized under the Juthungi inflow.  Whether at that time or later when the Vandals (another – mostly (?) – Scandinavian tribe) and Alans sweep westwards most, though not all, of the Suevi who join them speak one or other form of Germanic.

The Formation of New Europe

Those Suevi who went West end up in northwestern Spain and in Portugal.  Those who stayed behind – perhaps – become the Schwaben.  Or perhaps the Suevi name is just transferred to the Germanic Schwaben because that is where, in prior times, the Suevi lived.

Those Suevi who stayed East begin their series of invasions of Russia and of the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire eventually taking most of what later is to become Rus and Bulgaria and significant portions of Greece.  They establish a Suevic province somewhere in Pannonia.  , However, in the end most of them get Hellenized, Magyarized and, in Bulgaria, they Slavicize the Bulgars.  The Byzantines would later resettle some of these “Greek” Slavs in Asia Minor, i.e., today’s western Turkey coast.

As for those Suevi hidden in the mountains, they come out to form White Serbia, White Croatia before heading south to form the Czech lands, Serbia and Croatia.  Others move westwards into Germany and north into northern Poland.

(Interestingly, and this is actually attested, many Britons when faced with the Anglo-Saxon invasion, jump ship (so to speak) onto a ship and head (back?) to Bretagne… Did they remember the Ventic heritage or was this just a convenient place to flee?)


Of course, any number of variations on the above theme are possible.  This is just one of them.  For example, what if the Zlowene/Slavs are some sort of a mixture of Suevi and Veneti or Suevi-veneti or Suevenete or Suevene.  Whoa!

In the meantime, however, let’s just focus on the specific variation of the theory above – what questions does such a theory help resolve?

Thor’s Hammer versus the Out In Theory

Clearly, the biggest solution that this offers is the solution not just to the Slavic puzzle but to the Suevic puzzle.  We were told that, when the Roman lens first looked at Germania Germania in the time of Ceasar most of that country was occupied by the Suevi.  That was more or less the case until 150 or so A.D. when information about far Germanic provinces became less available (or at least less available to us).  Then, when the lens holder reemerged, this time in a Frankish garb, most of his Eastern flank was full of Slavs.  Where did all the Suevi go?  Surely, the sum total of those who went to Portugal and the Schwaben would not be enough to cover all of the Sueves?  And where did the Suavs/Slavs come from?

Let’s put it this way – do a thought experiment: suppose all the Slavs actually spoke some Germanic language.  Got it?  Ok.  Now, if that were the case, do you think that anyone would posit (A) a giant outmigration followed by (B) a giant immigration (“Out In Theory”)?  We do not think so.  There would be, we guess, no question in most historians minds that these people were the descendants of the Suevi or, for that matter, the Goths or Vandals.  This, notwithstanding a change in their “material culture” and the invasions of the Roman Empire.

That is, what we are trying to say, the only thing (or at least the most important thing) that even lets people entertain the Out In Theory is the fact that 1) the Slavs speak Slavic languages and 2) we suppose/assume that the Suevi spoke a Germanic language.  And yet, there is no evidence whatsoever for what language the Suevi actually spoke… So the question becomes is it easier to propose vast migrations or to revisit the question of the language spoken by these people in the first place?

(Ok, so we are being a bit silly here in that we are ignoring at least some of the archaeological evidence – but hey it’s a blog)

Objections Anyone?

But one might object (in fact there can be many objections, we will discuss only some of them).

These people were sometimes Suevi and sometimes Suebi and they are supposed to be, at least some of them, to be the ancestors of the Schwaben.

That certainly does not sound like Slavs!

We discussed some of the Slavic etymologies here and we will not get back into that.  Instead, we will ask what did Suevi or Suebi mean?

We are told by etymologists that the name can be traced to a “reconstructed” (i.e., without being pejorative, but basically “made up”) Proto-Germanic word *swēbaz.  Which means what?  “Swe” means (In this reconstructed tongue) “one’s own” (this may be the same root base as in Suiones or for that matter Swedes).  Put in other words, “our own people”.

Now, the above reconstruction is well and fine but one does not need to use etymological reconstruction rules or reconstruct anything to know that “svoi” or “svoie” (or a bunch of other variations) means the same (indeed same is the same too) in all “Slavic” languages.  If so, then the question arises, whether such a basic word could be a borrowing into Slavic?  And if not, maybe it’s just a common Indo-European word?

This may well be but it is curious why the Germanic Suevi would not have kept it but the non-Germanic Suoveanii did.  Especially, since this would have been for, e.g., the Schwaben the root of the name of their own people (i.e., presumably a word not just of every day use but also of ancestral significance).  This word does not appear in the “old” form in any current Germanic language.

Incidentally, the same can be said of “same”.  Suevi Semnones could be easily translated into the Polish Sami Svoi (only, solely, one’s own, i.e., only the family, so to speak).  That is in addition to being potentially cognate with ziemianie or the herb name siemion – again, because it comes from Zemya, i.e., it is of the Earth.


Two Suevi Semnones

Would it surprise you that, in the past, people did try to interpret Semnones also as the people of the Earth based on this Slavic word ziemia or zemya?  To support that variation, they also relied on the ritual described by as being a Suevic one whereby people would put stones on their necks and enter a circle until, under the weight of the stones, they fell to the ground, i.e., to the mother earth.  This is suggestive, in our view, but hardly convincing in and of itself.

Too Much Salt Spoils the Soup?

Finally, we may add that it is strange that some tribes known to be Slavic are also known to have existed in Roman times.  Back then, we are told they were Germanic.  E.g., Rani or Warni or (Celtic?) Rarogi (discussed here previously).  How then did they become Slavic?  Well, the comforting answer seems to be that the Slavic invaders simply assimilated them but kept the name. After all these were valuable commodities these Germanic names.  This was comforting because it allowed German race theorists to view the sea of Slavs that the Franks and later German margraves and princes had assimilated as simply Germanics that were now being brought back to the fold.

Notice, however, that that argument was never made in respect of the Suevii.  Why?  We do not, of course, know for sure… but our strong suspicion is that the implication of that kind of an argument would have been uncomfortable.  It’s one thing to have one or two foreign players on your team – those you can explain away, maybe some had German relatives, etc.  But taking on all of the Suevi would have been problematic.  For one thing, the sheer volume of the Slavs would have forced the issue of what language the Germans previously made use of? I.e., who were the real Germanii.  Was it more likely that the Slavs spoke a Germanic language or that some of the Germans at least (and not the Polabian Germans but Germans further West) spoke Slavic?  Such a question was never really relevant if you were talking about the Rarogi, Rani, Warni or even all of the Rugians.  But numbers matter.

Theories with Benefits

What other benefits does the theory offer?

Isis Cult

“Some of the Suevians make likewise immolations to Isis, concerning the cause and original of this foreign sacrifice I have found small light; unless the figure of her image formed like a galley, show that such devotion arrived from abroad.” Tacitus – “Germania.”

One need not look further but here, here and here to resolve the problem were one to claim that the alleged Isis is really Yassa.  (BTW it appears that Wojciech Kętrzyński aka Adalbert von Winkler was the first to propose this – he was also a big proponent of the Suevi theory – in his honor Rastenburg in Prussia was renamed Kętrzyn after WWII).

Veleda Figure

The Germanic wise woman (for example, see Paul the Deacon) – cognate with the Slavic Goddess Lyeda, Lada? 

Nasua and Cimberius

Does Ariovistus sound Germanic?  Perhaps it is a Germanic name.  What about the above Suevic names?  Do these sound German to you?  Does Nasua sound like nasi meaning “ours”? And what about Cimber-ius? Perhaps Cidebur (Czcibor – brother of Mieszko). Ok these are a major stretch, and yet the question stands.

Names Of Tribes

The theory also “explains” why Suaveane sounds so much like the Suevi (hint: they be the same).  Further, it explains why the Suevi were sometimes referred to as the Suavi.  E.g., in Jordanes (just one of a whole number of examples):

“And so the bravest nations tore themselves to pieces.  For then, I think, must have occurred a most remarkable spectacle, where one might see the Goths fighting with pikes, the Gepidae raging with the sword, the Rugi breaking off the spears in their own wounds, the Suavi fighting on foot, the Huns with bows, the Alani drawing up a battle-line of heavy-armed and the Heruli of light-armed warriors.” Jordanes – “Getica” about the Battle of Nedao (after Attila’s death).

(The Suavi are after the battle ruled by one Hunimund although whether that is their own chieftain or one installed by the Goths is not clear)

We can explain names like Semnones simply by reference to Slavic words, e.g., ziemia, ziemniak (with its M-N), ziemianin or ziomek (i.e., Landsmann or in today’s modern speak, “brother”); similarly, Lugii (elsewhere Lingae, in Strabo Luji) can be explained by Lengyel/Lachs as can their tribes of Buri (dark grey) or Diduni (Dzidunie?) (and what of the word for amber, the 1472 attested Burstein?). We do not explain others – e.g., Suevi Anglii or the Hermunduri, but we do not have to, those closest to the Hammer simply became Germanized.


While the Slavs never seem to have lived next to the Nemetes (who are, varyingly, called a Celtic or Germanic tribe), the Suevi certainly did.  If the Suevi are Slavs then they can simply have transferred the Nemetes name (after all, why can’t we “transfer” too?) onto every other Western tribe, especially the ones that, perhaps, once were Suavic but then became Germanized.  Hence Suevi & Nemetes may equal Slavs and Nemcy (Germans).

Strange Appearances of Suavia and the Suevi

These appearances may actually be an example of some Slavs being confused with the Germanic Suevi – but why would that be?

Jordanes tells us of a province  near Dalmatia that was called Suavia which, as per him, seems to have been closer to Dalmatia than Pannonia was.  That should eliminate Swabia.  So where was this Suavia?

Paul the Deacon says that “At the same time Waccho fell upon the Suavi and subjected them to his authority.” This assertion follows from “Origo Gentis Langobardorum” on which Paul was basing the early parts of his story of the Langobards.

The reference, however, confused the translators: “It is hard to see what people are designated by the name.  The Suavi who dwelt in the southwestern part of Germany, now Suabia/Swabia, are too far off.  Hodgkin suggests a confusion between Suavia and Savia, the region of the Save.  Schmidt says: ‘There is ground to believe that this people is identical with the Suevi of Vannius who possessed the mountain land between the March and the Theiss.”  But Vannius was installed by Tiberius – are these events really that old?

Of course, there are also the Suevi that are seminati in the Bavarian Geographer.  Why would someone describing Slavic tribes on Carolingian periphery bother to throw in some words regarding a non-Slavic people that are known to have been Germanic?  Another forgery?


And what of the Langobardic hero, Droctulf, a very Germanic name who, however, is referred to (on a church column, as reported by Paul the Deacon, as Drocton:

“Drocton lies buried within this tomb, but only in body,

For in his merits he lives, over the orb of the world,

First, with the Langobards he dwelt, for by race and by nature

Sprung from Suavian stock, suave to all people was he.”

in the Latin tongue:

Clauditur hoc tumulo, tantum sed corpore, Drocton:

Nam meritis toto vivit in orbe suis.

Cum Bardis fuit ipse quidem, nam gente Suavus;

Omnibus et populis inde suavis erat.

Now, perhaps the mighty Drocton really was sweet to all people (or all the girls were “sweet on him” as if it were 1950) and maybe that is all that that is.  Even then, the expression “to be sweet on someone” is dated to 1690 at the earliest.  We feel that we may have contributed to the history of the English or Germanic languages by pointing out an ancient usage of the idiom.

Or it could mean “suavny” (sławny/slavni/slavný) as in famous but that would be even crazier, right?


In the Bellos of Ceasar we have the following description of an animal of Germania:

“There is a third kind, consisting of those animals which are called uri.  These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull.  Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied.  These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them.  The young men harden themselves with this exercise, and practice themselves in this kind of hunting, and those who have slain the greatest number of them, having produced the horsn in public, to serve as evidence receive great praise.  But not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed.  The size, shape and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen.  These they they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments.”


Polonis Tur, Germanis Aurox

“Tertium est genus eorum, qui uri appellantur. Hi sunt magnitudine paulo infra elephantos, specie et colore et figura tauri.  Magna vis eorum est et magna velocitas, neque homini neque ferae quam conspexerunt parcunt. Hos studiose foveis captos interficiunt. Hoc se labore durant adulescentes atque hoc genere venationis exercent, et qui plurimos ex his interfecerunt, relatis in publicum cornibus, quae sint testimonio, magnam ferunt laudem.  Sed adsuescere ad homines et mansuefieri ne parvuli quidem excepti possunt.  Amplitudo cornuum et figura et species multum a nostrorum boum cornibus differt.  Haec studiose conquisita ab labris argento circumcludunt atque in amplissimis epulis pro poculis utuntur.”


The horn of the last Tur – stolen by Swedes from Warsaw in 1655 – currently resides in Stockholm

These uri were, of course, the aurochs or, in German Auerochse.  Curiously, in Polish the animal is called the tur (but also, uri, in Portuguese and Spanish).  The Germanic forms also have the ur- sound but always too the ochs (hence aur-och).  Needless to say, the last auroch died in Poland (in 1627).

It is claimed that -ox was added to the Germanic -ur (presumably as in or-iginal) first in Old High German (2nd half of the first millennium).  If so, and if this was a word that was inherited from the Germans by the Slavs then it is striking that it was inherited in the original form without the ochsen.  It is also strange since, if -ur really does refer to original (or ur-iginal) then one would expect that it be followed immediately by the original -something.  As in ur-ochs and that it should not appear on its own alone.  Ceasar does not report that, however.

Instead, both the Slavic and the original Latin have just an -ur (putting aside the fact that the polish plural t-ury seems closer to uri than any hypothetical uren).  And torowac as well as taran refer to hitting something/breaking through in Polish and other Slavic languages – seems apt for the ur-ochsen.

Deutsche, Toutatis and Taranis

There are other interesting aspects of all of this.  Take for example the reconstructed German word *teuta , i.e., Teutonic or also  written *toutā or *teutā  all meaning the “people” or “Volk”.  Now, in the 19th century a lot of Polish anthropologists visited Polish villages to try to preserve the peasant stories/culture and “awaken” the national feeling (this was particularly so since the occupiers often used the distinctions between the Polish aristocracy and the Polish peasantry to  drive a wedge into any attempt at insurrection – something that became visible in the 1863 Uprising or in the earlier Jakub Szela revolt of 1846).

Their chief complaint was that the people there did not exhibit enough national consciousness by simply answering the question of who they were with “we are from here”, or tutejsi (tutej or tutaj or tootay being words for “here”).  Does this mean that these peasants were really “German”?  We certainly do not think so in the modern sense of the word (and, of course, when strangers come to  your house asking about ethnic affiliation, one might well be tempted to say “oh yes, we are from here. Germans? Poles? Ukrainians? Never heard of them”).

Perhaps this can all be a coincidence or a hearkening back to the days of some Indo-European community.  But, again, it is curious that the word “here” does not sound in any Germanic variation anywhere close to “teuta” or “toota” but “tootaey” does).

Of course, one can also make similar statements about Celts…

Why do the Germans say Papa but the Poles Tata when talking about their father in the form of a diminutive?  Did the Germans change a “t” to a “p”?  But the “Celtic” Teutates or Toutates has been translated as teuta-tati – father of the people?  Was he then “tata” of the “tutejsi”?

What of Taranes the thunderer – the third “Celtic” God?  Why does the word taran (as in a battering ram) survive only (?) in Slavic languages?  And isn’t it curious that the “t” to a “p” switch here would make for a Paranes?  As Paraniya or Peeron? Even without the switch the sound similarity to Thor is obvious.

Other Thoughts

We could go on, of course.  Portuguese (Suebic) place names that sound vaguely Slavic?  References to the Winnuli as Slavs?  The helmet of Hlewagastiz (Hueva? > Hvaua/Chwala?) Radagaisus the true Scythian?  The existence of Serbum as a city in… Serbia at the time of Ptolemy (well, this last one is not so much a Suevic thought as just an autochtonous thought).

Conclusion (?)

A lot of this goes back to Indoeuropean past but it is nonetheless curious that some of these ancient pieces seem to have been preserved in their more original form solely among the Slavs.

Or maybe we are just pulling your legs – both of them naturally.  You decide.  Enough of this  Suevic talk for now – next week we get back to the Veneti.



(Objections to this are aplenty, BTW, e.g., Suevic names, for the most part actually are Germanic; writers like Jordanes identify both the Sclaveni and the Suevi separately – though, to be fair, they are not comparing them, the names just appear in different parts of the various books).

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March 22, 2015

Of Moses (Khorenatsi)

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The Armenian historian Moses/Movses Khorenatsi (no, not one of those), i.e., Moses of Khoren (or Kohren) supposedly lived at the turn of the 4th and 5th century.  We say “supposedly” because all you have to do is “google” his name and you will see that there are plenty of opinions dating his work to a much later period (i.e., 9th or even 10th century).  In particular, it seems the manuscript may have been “touched up” sometime between 900-950 (or, as some claim, perhaps even Moses lived in the 9th or 10th century).

Where national antiquity is involved, there are, of course, plenty of folks who beg to differ.


We do not intend to get in the middle of this controversy.  But we do not have to for our purposes.

If the earlier dates can be correct then we have in Moses’ History of Armenia the first ever mention of Slavs – before even Procopius and Jordanes.  However, even if the later dating is the correct one his testimony is relevant as a Slavic antiquity nonetheless.  (Of course, the fact that Slavs are mentioned may provide more evidence to those arguing for a later dating).

In any event, we follow here the text of the Slovanské Starožitnosti of Pavol Jozef Šafárik who thought it worthy to include this text (to be fair to Safarik, he did so before the whole controversy about dating Khorenatsi surfaced at the end of the 19th century).

This is what Moses writes:

“Tragacoc ascharhn harawelic galow Dahmadioh, ar jeri Sarmadioh.  Jew uni Tragia pokr ascharhs hing, jew mii [mi?] mjec, horum jen Sglawajin [or Sglawacuoc in some manuscripts] askk jotn.  Oroc pochanag mdin Kutk.  Uni ljerins [ljeries?] jew kjeds jew kahaks jew [jewzs?] lidzs [lid?] ghzis jew zercanig mairakahakn Gonsdandinubaulis.”

Yes, this is not in the original Armenian alphabet; here is the “original”:



“The land of the Thracians lies to the East of Dalmatia, next to Sarmatia.  Thracia has five smaller regions and one big one, in which there are seven Slavic nations/tribes.  Into their lands there came the [Goths or nations]. It also has mountains, rivers, cities, lakes and islands and a happy capital city Constantinople.”

The above is from a 1736 Historiae Armenica Libri III (i.e., in three books) by Mosis Chorenensis published in London by William and George Whiston (first publication with any sort of a translation).  Here is the full page:



The seven Slavic tribes (or generations?) that were conquered by the Bulgars in 678 are mentioned also by Theophanes and Anastasius, Byzanthine authors.  In some other editions there appears, erroneously it seems, 25 in lieu of 7.

With regards to the “Goths”, the word used in Kutk, which may mean Goths or it may mean “nations” which could, in the latter case, then also mean the Bulgars.  And isn’t interesting that award vaguely like Goth can mean simply “peoples” or “nations” (even if it is in Armenian).


Too lazy to learn Glagolithic? Try this! First printed edition ever – from Amsterdam

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March 21, 2015

On the Ravenna Cosmography

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The Ravenna Cosmography is a medieval work of geography that is one of the few such undertakings of the Middle Ages.  Most people think it can be dated to the late 7th, early 8th century, probably about the years 650-750.  It was created by an anonymous drafter, probably a monk, in the, yes you guessed it, the Italian city of Ravenna.


Now, Ravenna itself is an interesting place and was an even more interesting place back in the medieval day.  It became the capital of the Western Roman Empire in 402 and continued as such after the Empire’s collapse, i.e., it was the capital of the kingdom of Odoacer until his execution by Theoderic (who apparently killed Odoacer himself at a peace celebration) in 493 and remained the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom until its collapse in 553 when it was recovered for the Eastern Roman Empire by Justinian (or more precisely by Belisarius for Justinian), as was described in the Gothic War by Procopius.  It was here at Ravenna at the court of Theoderic that Cassiodorus supposedly wrote his Gothic History which later served as the model for Jordanes’ own version of Getica.


After 553, the city and central Italy remained in Byzantine hands, just barely, pressed on all sides by the Lombards.  Formally, the territory was called the Exarchate of Ravenna and it continued in that form until 751 when the Lombards decided to kill Eutychius, the last Exarch.  The Pope called in the Franks who then drove out the Lombards and gave (Pippin the Younger at Quierzy) Ravenna to the Popes creating the seed of the Papal states.  Later the Franks, under Charlemagne took a significant amount of treasure and artifacts back to to the Carolingian capital of Aachen (which, presumably, is where one ought to look for Cassiodorus’ lost works – or Ravenna – or Constantinople).

In any event, in the Cosmography, the anonymous geographer (cosmographer?) divides the world into sections based on the hours of a clock, i.e., dividing the world into twenty four hours.      The twelve hours constituting European parts begin with (this is all in Book I):

  • Hour 1 – Western most slice containing western Germania, its dominant Franks as well as the Brits;
  • Hour 2 – then we come to Germania of the Frisians;
  • Hour 3 – then to Saxony;
  • Hour 4 – the Northmen, Denmark, the Alps being the country of the River Elbe where the Maurungani dwelt previously (?), Datia minor and major (?), then Gepidia where now the Huns live (i.e., the Avars), then Illyria/Dalmatia;
  • Hour 5 – here live Sciridifrinorum (Sciri?) vel Rerefenorum (?);
  • Hour 6 – finally, brings us to our friends the Slavs:

Sexta ut hora noctis Scytharum est patria, unde Sclavinorum exorta est prosapia; sed et Vites et Chimabes ex illis egressi sunt.  Cuius post terga Oceanum non invenimus navigari.


1688 Placido Porcheron edition

“The sixth hour of the night is the country of the Scythians, wherein arose the people of the Slavs; And from them there came the Vites and Chimabes, in the back of whom the ocean becomes not navigable.”


  • Hour 7 – is the hour of the Sarmatians and of the Carpi (from whom the war went out (?));
  • Hour 8 – is where the Roxolani originated and the ancient Scythians on some island (?) called by Jordanes Scanza (!) prior home to Goths and Danes and Gepids (?);
  • Hour 9 – is where the Amazons are;

Etc, Etc.

In Book IV, a more specific description of Europe follows.  This too is shown in multiple parts, as follows (East to West, roughly):

First, we have Scythia/Khazaria; then Abasgia (Abkhazia) – home of the Alans; then Licania Bosforania on the Black Sea; then comes part IV which says more or less the following:

Item ad partem septentrionalem iuxta Oceanum confinalis praefatae maioris Scythiae ponitur patria quae dicitur Colchia Circeon, Melanglinon, Bassarinon.  Quae Colchia Circeon in omnibus eremosa esse dinoscitur. De qua patria enarravit Pentesileus philosophus.  Item iuxta Oceanum confinanlis praefatae regionis Colchiae est patria quae dicitur ab antiquis Amazonum, postquam eas de Caucasis montibus exisse legimus.  De qua patria subtilius agunt supra scriptus Pentesileus et Marpesius atque Ptolomaeus rex Aegyptiorum Macedonum, philosophi.  Item iuxta Oceanum est patria quae dicitur Roxolanorum, Suaricum, Sauromatum. Per quam patriam inter cetera transeunt flumina quae dicuntur, fluvius maximus qui dicitur Vistula, quia nimis undosus in Oceano vergitur, et fluvius qui nominatur Lutta.  De qua patria enarravit supra scriptus Ptolomaeus rex et philosophus.  Cuius patriae post terga infra Oceanum supra scripta insula Scanza invenitur.

Which, roughly, means that in the North near the Ocean, Greater Scythia continues and we have various other countries, including the country of the Amazons,  then also near the Ocean the country of the Roxolans, Suaricum (of the Swedes?) and Sarmatians.  Through that country passes the River Vistula and also the River Lutta (?).  All of this corresponds to the above hours 9, 8 and 7.


Then in part V, we have the countries in front of Roxolania, e.g., Sithrogorum, Campi Campanidon (?), Getho Githorum, Sugdabon, Fanaguron and what appears to be the Maeotian (Mursian?) Swamp.  Parts VI through X are rather uninteresting (Thrace, Moesia and Greece) and then we get to part XIV and learn about, among others, Dacia aka Gepidia where now the Avars live.  Further, we have a discussion of Carnech country (Julian Alps as attested by Marcomirus, the Gothic philosopher) which presumably means Carinthia.  We also get to Gallia which has such rivers, among others, as Saruba (Zaruba = Zaręba = a place where bushes were cut down or, maybe, something about Sorbs, Serbs?, today: Saravus), Bleza (today: Blies), Nida (today: Nied), which, at the Rhodanus (hmmm… Rodan?), also include Duba and Saganna, etc.  Then in the Venetian provinces we have rivers such as Sile (today: Silis) and Plave (today: Piave) and so it goes. In Portugal we have towns such as Mirtilin, Besurin, Serpas (some continue to be there to this day! Are the Sueves responsible for these names?).

Now, take a look at the above and look at the map that was put together for an edition of the Cosmography (above).  Isn’t it strange that the sixth hour where the Slavs are does not contain the River Vistula (which is, in effect, in the seventh or maybe even (as per the above picture), the eight hour)?  Who is on the Vistula?  Roxolani, Suarices (!?) and Sauromates.

(Now, the Suavi, with an “-a”, are listed separately (from the Sclavins listed in Book IV) but in an area roughly corresponding to the third hour and hence the person who drew the above picture places them in that general area).

(There are three manuscripts of the Cosmography, all significantly removed from the autograph, and none seems readily available so we use here “relatively recent” printing from 1860 that is more easily available.  The manuscripts are the Codex Vaticanus Urbinas 961, Codex Parisinus Bibliotheque Imperial 4794, Codex Basiliensis F.V.6.)

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March 20, 2015

On the English Language

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Since we quoted from the Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache in the previous post, it seems fair to also quote from another linguistic source and, since we quoted from a 19th century source, let us also quote from another 19th century source.  The book in question is Robert Gordon Latham’s “The English Language”.  Latham had many talents but his foremost appears to be in ethnology.  Here is Latham regarding the Slavic displacement of the original Germanic population. (Latham generously gives this displacement 500 years from the time of Tacitus to the 6th century but these days, the displacement is posited to have occurred only in the 6th-7th centuries):


“Lastly, Saxon as in England, the oldest geographical terms are Keltic; some of the original names of the rivers and mountains remanining unchanged.  The converse is the case in Transabingian Germany.  The older the name the more surely it is Slavonic.”

“So much for the extent of the assumed displacement.  It must have been the greatest and the most absolute of any recorded in history.”

“It must also have taken place with unparalleled rapidity.  By supposing that the assumed changes set in immediately after the time of Tacitus, and that as soon as that writer had recorded the fact that Poland, Bohemia, and Courland were parts of Germania, the transformation of these previously Teutonic areas into Slavonic ones, began, we have a condition as favorable for a great amount of changes as can fairly be demanded.  Still it may be improved.  The last traces of the older population may be supposed to have died out only just before the time when the different areas became known as exclusively Slavonic; an assumption which allows the advocate of the German theory to stay that, had our information been a little earlier, we should have found what we want in the way of vestiges, fragments, and effects of the antecedent non-Slavonic aborigines.  Be it so.  Still the time is short.  Bohemia appears as an exclusively Slavonic country as early as A.D. 625.  Is the difference between these areas and the time of Tacitus sufficient?”

“Undoubtedly a great deal in the way of migration and displacement may be done in five hundred years, and still more in seven hundred; yet it may be safely said that, under no circumstances whatever, within the historical period, has any known migration equalled the rapidity and magnitude of the one assumed, and that under no circumstances has the obliteration of all signs of an earlier population been so complete.”

How could the displacement inferred from this utter obliteration have taken place?  Was it by a process of ejection, so that the presumed immigrant Slavonians conquered and expelled the original Goths.  The chances of war, when we get to the historical period, run the other way; and the first fact which we know concerning those selfsame Slavonians who are supposed to have dispossessed the Germans in the third and fourth centuries, is that, in the ninth, the Germans dispossessed them.”

“If this view will not suffice, let us try another.  Let us ask if it may not be the case, that, when those Germans, who are admitted to have left their country in great numbers, migrated southwards, they left vast gaps in the population of their original areas, which the Slavonians from behind filled up, even by the force of pressure; since geography abhors a vaccuum as much as nature is said to do.”

“I will not say that this view is wholly unsupported by induction.  Something of the kind may be found amongst the Indians of North America, where a hunting-ground abandoned by one tribe is appropriated by another.  The magnitude, however, of such vacuities is trifling compared with the one in question.”

“History only tells us of German armies having advanced southwards.  The conversion of these armies into national migrations is gratuitous.”

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

March 17, 2015

On Haensel and Gretel

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Since some may think our musings on the subject to be little more than faery tales, it seems appropriate to continue this discussion by bringing in an expert on both linguistics and faery tales, Mr. Jacob Grimm.  Here is what he has to say on the matter in his Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache:

“…Sueven and Slaven appear to be the same word.  Caesar, Strabo, Tacitus, Ptolemy write Suevi  Σοηβοι [Soeboi/Soevoi] or Σουηβοι [Soueboi/Souevoi].”

[Here it is worth mentioning that the Greek “v” letter did not initially exist though later the Greek beta “β” began to change into a “v” sound; it seems – though is not certain – that during the time of Caesar and later it would have been a “v”, hence Suevi and not Suebi – even though the letter used to spell the name is “b”; that said, the “b” pronunciation continues in Schwaben – and that is in German…]

But should a main tribe of the Germans be called by the same name as the Slavs who, while originally related, nevertheless are always different from us?  I would like to explain myself.  The name Suevi is admittedly Slavic and means, as we just saw [here Grimm refers to an earlier discussion regarding the West and East Slavic svoboda and the South Slavic sloboda, i.e., freedom], the “free [ones]”; the name was given by Sarmatians in the East to their German neighbors, just as in the West the name Germans [was given to the Germans] by the Belgians and Galls.  Later, it is possible, that the same nice name was either chosen by the Slavs for themselves or was received back [for the Slavs] from their German neighbors, an in a strange irony it was from the subjugated Slavs the concept and name of servitude (sclavi, italian schiavi), that originally referred to freedom.  Conversely, the Germans began to gradually use the name of their own people Vandali, Vindili in the form Veneti Vinidi Winidi with respect to their Slavic neighbors, the German Sueven, however, retained the [Slav-given] name [of Suevi] and hardened it merely into the Gothic Svebos (?) or Old High German Suapa or Anglo-Saxon Svaefas, like already in Greek, [e.g.,] it was written Σοηβοι for Suevi.  The designation Sloveni seems to be predominantly rooted among the Southern Slavs, just as they prefer sloboda to svoboda.  The Byzantines Procopius, Agathias and so forth [i.e., and others], work into the Σχλαβοι [Sklaboi/Sklavoi] Σχλαβηνοι [Sklabenoi/Sklavenoi] a “C” [i.e., a “k” sounding letter] Sclavi Sclaveni, which is, however, rejected in the Slavic spelling.  It appears incorrect to derive the name Slovenen from slava gloria or slovo word, or from [some] unknown place name, as Schafarik believes.  Thus our Sueven are also not so named after the river Suevus, [though] this one [river is] rather [named] after them…

[Grimm then goes on, among other things, to describe the switch between SV and SL and the similarity among words such as sweet and sladky [in Czech] though noting (without seeing the relevance of) the Polish (but also Sorbia) słodki (i.e, with an “ł” being the lower-case version of “Ł” and pronounced suodkee) before continuing as follows] 

“But which of the two forms is the older one?  Since in Sanskript svapnas and svadus show up, [whereas] svoboda is older and closer to svoi than sloboda, [and] also Suevus is older than Slavus, I give the greater age to the “V”.  From the aspirated [consonant] comes the liquid [consonant], just as from the “S” [comes] the “R”.  Conversely, the “L” is older than the Roman[/Latin?], Dutch and Serbian dissolution into “I” or “U”.”


So what does all of this mean? Putting aside the “K” inserted by the Greeks between the “S” and the “L” it seems that the Slavs that attacked the Byzantines spoke a Southern Slavic (in today’s sense) dialect.  Ok, anything else?

Well, Svevi is older than Slevi.  But what about Souevi?  Grimm, to our eyes, seems unclear on this point.  If we go by Sanskript, it may be younger than Svevi but perhaps older than Slevi.  But even this much is not clear.

What about Grimm’s explanation for the name’s acquisition?  First, Grimm seems to assume that the Sarmatians spoke Slavic (as we understand that to be today).  This may or may not be the case – perhaps something between Slavic and Iranian?  Beyond that the assumptions he makes seems highly improbable.

It is probably the case that the name Germani comes to the Romans from the Galls and the Belgae (this may be rather relevant).  The Romans had known the Galls from forever having suffered their invasions of Italy before retiring the same favour.  However, the Roman intercourse with the Sarmatians – even if we by that name mean the Yaziges or some tribe along the same ethnicity – at the time of Caesar seems not nearly as robust.  Therefore, it is unconvincing to propose a Sarmatian source for the name – at least, it is unconvincing, for the Romans to acquire the name from the Sarmatians.

And we know the Belgae and Galls called the Germans Germani.  So it seems that the name may well have been of the Germans’ own making.

But how does Grimm think the same name ended up being applied to the Slavs? Let’s quote him again:

“Later, it is possible, that the same nice name was either chosen by the Slavs for themselves or was received back [for the Slavs] from their German neighbors.”

So it seems Grimm thinks either the Slavs (whoever they were before – Sarmatians?) now coveted the name for themselves – so in a way stole it (or took it back if you will) or the Germans gave the name to the Slavs (gave back? shared?).  While fearsome names may later be borrowed (e.g., Hungarians wanting to be called after Huns – but their own name Magyar or the Avars wanting to be called after the Avari – their own original name being?), it stretches credulity to think that a group of people speaking the same language came into the space occupied by the Suevi previously and either appropriated their name or received it back.  As for the first proposition, the preponderance of the usage of Slav – from the deepest Russia to the Elbe – seems to speak against a local borrowing (which would then have to be spread to many other tribes all across the current “Sarmatiandom” (?), i.e.,  the “future” Slavdom).  The second point is even more easily dismissed since we already know that the Germans called their Eastern neighbors Wends, presumably, because the Slavs either were or appeared in the same place as the earlier-attested Veneti.

So, again, what does this all mean?

We would be the last to provide any conclusive and indisputable answers. But, since we are on a roll, let us take a look at the meaning of the word Suevi as commonly explained by the etymological establishment.

Etymologists trace the meaning to the reconstructed (of course) Proto-Germanic *swēbaz, meaning *swē- one’s own –baz [people?].  Alternatively, they reconstruct an even earlier Indo-European root of –swe again meaning one’s own.  [Suevi being not the only case, see too, for example, Swedes]

All this effort seems to have been on the right track since we have merely to glance at a Polish (or Sorbian) dictionary to discover that, indeed, -svoi does appear there as in swój (svui pronunciation) or swoi (svoi pronunciation) meaning, indeed, “one’s own” (singular and plural).

The sun is rising suggesting mercilessly that it is time to stop for now.  We leave you with a picture from Haensel & Gretel that famous Grimm faery tale.  In Polish the story’s name is Jaś i Małgosia – this title itself is rather a pro po, both by reason of the Grimm connection and by reason of the titular hero’s (sorry ladies, this time we skip Małgosia) – Jaś, you see is a common name in Polish folklor but what really confounded Polish ethnologists was the fact that, while they believed the name to be a diminutive of Jan, i.e., John, the peasants appeared to be using the name as a freestanding regular one with no diminutive intentions visible on the horizon.


Hermen, sla dermen, sla pipen, sla… wait, what?

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

March 16, 2015

On Hydronymy of Germania

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End of the Line?

Ok, we resisted going here for a while.  But, in good fun, let us try an exercise of “where do Slavs come from” without invoking the Venethi/Venedi/Veneti…  Or even without invoking some of the allegedly “Celtic” tribes.  Can we do that and not revert back to some Ural/Pripet Marshes silliness?

Turns out we can – at least for fun… Or is it?  You decide.  To do that we must ask… who were the “Germanic Tribes” that populated (or moved through) vast parts of Europe.  Could some of them have been Slavs?

It turns out that the question is nontrivial.  For example, there is a long history of back and forth about certain tribes and whether they were Celtic or Germanic.  The only reason no one has (recently) undertaken the same with the Slavs is that the Slavs are not supposed to be in Germania until the 6th century at the earliest.

But what do we mean by that?  What do we mean by Slavs here?  Well, people who later formed the core or maybe a portion of the Slavic tribes known to history.  People who did not speak a Germanic language (or what we think of as Germanic) but something different – perhaps not a Slavic language but something closer to Slavic and out of which Slavic arose than to Germanic language.

We must first observe that the German name “Germani” was not German per se.  It was a Latin word that was derived from Gaulish (or so it is thought).  Could it be then that the subsequent names containing –manni (Alemanni?  Marcomanni) are “Gaulish” too?  And who are these Gauls then?  For they seem to be speaking, if this is true, a proper German dialect?

Putting aside the Gauls, what language did their neighbors, these Germanic tribes speak then?  Turns out we do not know.  Let us be clear about this.  Of all the old Germanic languages only Gothic is attested and the primary source for this is Ulfilas’ Bible.  All the other evidence for the Germanic or non-Germanic nature of any tribe comes from personal names of the various chieftains.  Now those names sometimes sound Germanic and sometimes not.  In general, they get very much more Germanic, however,  once the Goths make their appearance.

Now the Goths clearly spoke a Germanic language.  Although… the funny thing is that Germanic language seems closer to Slavic than various West Germanic languages.  Perhaps that is because the Slavs were part of the Gothic Imperium.  Perhaps.  But it is also the case that Scandinavian languages in general seem much closer to Slavic than proper German.  Compare the various Polish -skis with the same -sk in Swedish.  For example, isn’t it odd that that Polska, the Polish name for Poland sports the same suffix as Svenska, the Swedish word meaning Swedish?  And that both are adjectives?  We will return to this topic.  But now for the topic at hand.

What would such a theory of Slavic Germans look like?

 On the Name of the Slavs

The Slavic name is often presented as meaning either (a) glory/glorious or (b) relating to words.

As regards the first theory, it is supposed to be a self-congratulatory remark on the fame of the bearers of the same.  In fact, it is true that “slava” does mean fame.  However, in some West Slavic languages, notably Polish, the word is chwala – pronounced hvaua.  Slava, notably pronounced in Polish suava, means fame.  Both are very ancient although chwala/hvaua may be older.

The other theory of the “word” is often brought up.  The word for word in Slavic languages is “slovo” which in Polish is pronounced suovo.  As a strong point in the theory’s favour it is pointed out that in all Slavic languages the word for Germans is Niemcy/Nemcy or, supposedly the “dumb” ones, i.e., the ones who do not speak the language.  What language?  Well, the language, namely Slavic.  There is are several problems with this theory.  For one, it presupposes that the earliest or at least most-important non-Slavic speakers the Slavs encountered were the Germans and not various Iranian tribes, Balts, Greeks, etc.  For that there is little evidence from your usual historiography (but see below).  That is to say, no other non-Slavic speakers that were or are neighbors to the Slavs are called “dumb” – even ones whose language is arguably further away on the language tree from Slavic than Germanic dialects would be.  The other problem here is that the Czech Němec, the Polish Niemiec, the Slovak Nemec, the Polabian Nemëc or the Kashubian Miemc or any of the South or East Slavic “German” names does not mean dumb as in mute.  The Czech term is němý, the Polish term is niemy, the Slovak term is nemý etc.  (BTW several other ones translate, interestingly enough, into glupi meaning intellectually challenged, with the same double meaning as in the English dumb.

So where does the “c” come from?

(hint: t > c)

There is another objection to either of these impressive theories.  Any such meaning would be unusual for Slavic tribes – most of whose designations seem to be based on toponymy, hydronymy or similar geographic concepts.  This is particularly so with Slavic words with an –ene ending.  In fact, we are hardly the first to notice this as a number of scholars have sought for the topographical feature – most likely in their view a river – that would seal the answer to the question of where do Slavs come from.  Thus, for example, the linguist Max Vasmer says that *-ěninъ*-aninъ only occurs in place names so that *slověne would likely be derived from such a place name – “most likely” a hydronym.  Maybe a river?

No such river – at least no such river of any sufficiently large magnitude has been found yet, however.  And our scholars were anything but lazy we ought to point out.  Thus, the various “nationalist” scientists searched within their respective countries’ jurisdictions.  The Poles covered most of the Bug-Oder realm.  The Czechs diligently searched the Bohemian lands.  The Slovenes, Serbs and Croats their own countries and, just to be sure, Hungary (former Pannonia – you never know).  The Russians and Ukrainians went through all of Russia and Ukraine.  The Belorussians made their contribution scouring Volhynnia.  The Germans, being most diligent of all, of course, searched with a comb from their favourite Pripet Marshes all the way to the Urals and beyond.  No success so far, though we are told the German search may be nearing Alaska so we may have our answer soon (after all Alaska does have an -ska in it – some even claim it’s a Russian word (but maybe Swedish… dope!) – so that could be it after all!).

Taking heed of the advice of a fictional but rather perceptive English detective and his time-worn advice, we are inclined to ask whether our scholars have by now eliminated all the impossibilities and whether whatever may remain to be looked at, in all its glorious improbability, must nevertheless be the sought after truth?

 The Current State of Play

Here is the current state of thinking on European history.  In the time of the great Ceasar, the time of Cornellius Tacitus and the time of Claudius Ptolemy (from the 40s B.C. all the way through 150 A.D.) Germany was occupied by Germanic tribes (well, duh!).  Then other Germanic tribes showed up in the third century, namely the Goths.  They caused all kinds of trouble but were eventually contained.  But only until the Huns showed up.  The Huns drove the Goths through the Roman lines and the Goths and Huns ravaged Rome and each other until various Germanic Kingdoms sprung up only to be beaten down one by one by the Byzantines and, eventually, the Arabs.  In the meantime all of former Germania emptied itself of its peoples so that those sneaky Slavs used this opportunity to move in and modern Europe was born (until the Germans begin their Reconquista with the Drang Nach Osten, a process that takes us through most of history until its recent, no doubt temporary, set back).

On the Letter “Ł”

The letter “Ł” exists in only a few languages.  It exists in Polish, Kashubian, Upper and Lower Sorbian and the Latin versions of Ukrainian and Belorussian.  Also in the Vilamovian (Wilmesaurisch) dialect of German.  In Navajo (!)  Oh yes, and in the current Venetian dialect of Italy (we just can’t get away from the Venetians it seems).  In Polish it was proposed first by Jakub Parkoszowic (we know Jacob from his study of Polish orthography which also happens to mention the Goddess Nia – you can read more about that here).  In fact, the “Ł” is also the unofficial car bumper sticker for “Łuzyce”, i.e., Lusatia/Lausitz (on the Sorbian cars only, of course).

The sound that the letter “Ł” is supposed to represent is closest to the English “w” but can also be represented by “uo” or “ue” or “ua”.  The Russian “Л л” or “э л” gets at the same point but sometimes it is pronounced like a  normal “L l”.  Other Cyryllic alphabets have the same split use of those letters.

Curiously, though it is the “Ł” sound not the “L” sound that is present in the, e.g., Polish pronunciation of the word “Slav”.  Thus, for example, in Polish the word “Slav” is “Słowianin” which is pronounced Swoveaneen or, if you prefer this spelling, Suoveaneen.  

Now in English it is not uncommon to get frightened of the above “Ł” sound and just change into the next closest letter, i.e., “L”.  That, however, changes its sound for the unaware reader and obfuscates analytics.

Oh, and one other thing, apparently, in the 15th-16th century the “Ł” sound was in use among the Polish commoners whereas the nobility used “L”.  Curious.

What can you do with all of this water? 

Now, of course, there is a river in Germany (three in fact) that goes by the name Saale.  That name is German.  The Slavic version of the (Saxon) Saale is Soława which is pronounced Souava.


Flumine Solave in Annales Polonorum

Supposing (just for a moment) that some Slavic tribe did manage to in the vicinity of the Souava and were to be named after the Slavic name for that river, what would that name look like? Souaveane? Then Suoveane?

That can’t possibly be it though.  Let us look at the ever giving Wikipedia.  In fact, given the difficulty of the subject in front of us, let us make sure that we look at the one Wikipedia that delivers the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (not the English one).

So what can we learn about this curious river name from the German Wikipedia?  Well, we learn that the name has something may have something to do with the German Saal or really sul meaning salt and with ava.  Now, there are saltworks in the Halle region which would explain the salt connection.  But there are a few “disturbances” in the Force or glitches in the Matrix.

Sul may well have been a German word for salt but now it is Salz.  Slavic, however, currently calls salt sul,  as the town on the Saale by the name of Suhl may attest.  And what does one do with suhl (e.g., Polish sól but pronounced suhl)?  Well, one salts or soli.

Moreover, not all the German Saale rivers may be explained by a salty connection.  Just this one.     On the Slavic side of the ledger, however, Soława/Souava refers only to this Saale and to the Frankian Saale but the latter name is not attested in Slavic languages at any early time, i.e., may represent a transfer from the Souava simply by reason of the fact that the Germans called both rivers Saale.

Well, if the Slavic word has something to do with saltworks then the Slavs must have only named the river after those saltworks were set up.  And before that the river was no doubt called Saale – a river name that the stubborn Slavs refused to adopt (Slavs are notorious for not adopting German river names and coming up with their own – the iron rule that hydronims last through all kinds of Voelkerwanderungen obviously is a rule that Slavic roving bands do not follow – wonder why that is).

In any event, we can no doubt show the arrival of the industrious Germans, followed by the naming of the river (Saale), then the establishment (by the aforementioned Germans) of the saltworks, then the arrival of the Slavs (no doubt as laborers for the German saltworks (salt mines?)) and the appearance for the first time of the Slavic Soława/Souava name.

Unfortunately, it seems that the saltworks were present in the area even before the birth of Christ and the first attested name for the river is a Slavic one – specifically attested by our friend Ibrahim-ibn-Yaqub in 973 as S-lava. (No Yaqub did not have a “Ł” available in his letter repertoire).  Specifically, he wrote:

“Nubgrad (Novigrad) is a fort built of stone and lime, and it is on the Slawah into which falls the river Bode.  And from Nubgrad to Mallahat al-Yahud [the saltpans of the Jews? Salzmunde? In any event, we got our salt] which is on the Slawah river, is thirty miles.  From there to the fort of Burjin [Wuerzen], which is on the River Muldawah… 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.”

(yes, there is a Sala listed by Strabo between which and the Rhine Drusus Germanicus fell off his horse but that was the Fraenkische Saale, a different river).

But what of the –ava?  It is an Old-Germanic or at least Gothic word for what?  Water?  Of course,  see auwa, ouwa, ahva, aha =  Wasser!


Now you know that Agua is really a German word!

Maybe, but only inasmuch as similar words surface, so to speak, in all European languages including in various Slavic languages, e.g., Murava, Ostrava, oh yes, also “Muldawah” and Moldava (see above).

Scheisse! (Pardon us!)

Aha, we got it!  What if we looked at the authors of antiquity!?  No doubt the name Saale will pop up right away!

Let’s look at Ptolemy.  No Saale here.

Strange, though, there is a river here that sounds somewhat like Souava or Suava.  Its name is Suevus in Ptolemy.  But that can’t be it – for one thing the Saxon Saale runs into the Elbe (Slavic Łaba, albis = lebed = swan?), whereas Ptolemy says the Suevus has a mouth so it empties into… into what?  The Ocean of course.  Or does it?  But we know Suevus is the Oder or the Vistula or something like that.

Now, of course there are other examples of the -a to -us switch in the Roman tongue.  E.g., Drava > Dravus, Sava > Savus, so Souava > Souavus does not seem to be a major stretch.

Be that as it may, this (Suevus) was the river near which the most Germanic of the Germans dwelt in antiquity – the Suevi, Suavi or Suebi.  And we know that this great and populous nation occupied virtually all of Germany and certainly all of the various parts of Germany that were later occupied by the newcomers from the Pripet Marshes (or better yet from beyond the Urals), the not so great but, admittedly, also just as populous Slavic tribe of Suoveane (or as we like to spell them to make sure they do not look too much like the Suevi, the Slovene).

In order to dispel all this confusion, it seems that we have to write something about the Mighty German Tribe of the Suevi.

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

March 15, 2015