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 – 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)
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?
“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).
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.
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).
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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