Monthly Archives: October 2015

Isidore on Suevi, Veneti and Slavs

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Isidore of Seville (560 A.D. – 636 A.D.) was one of the Church fathers and most revered writers of the early medieval period.  We should then ask what did he have to say on the Slavs and the Suevi.



As for the Slavs, there appears to be only one Isidorian reference – in his Cronica Maiora (ironically, considered to be a minor work).  There, he says;

“Heraclius has completed five years of his imperial rule. At the beginning, the Slavs took Greece from the Romans; the Persians took Syria, Egypt, and many provinces”.  This appears to be a reference to events in the Byzantine Empire of either A.D. 615 – 616 or A.D. 625 – 626.  The “five” above sometimes is a “sixteen”.  Given that the so-called Continuation mentions a similar even in the 653rd year and we know that the Spanish Era had a 38 year difference from normal counting, the year would seem to be 615/616.


Regarding the Suevi, however, Isidore has considerably more to say.  First of all, Isidore wrote the famous “History of the Kings of the Goths, Vandals and Suevi” (Historia de regibus Gothorum, Vandalorum et Suevorum) describing the Gothic, Vandalic, Suevic (and, occasionally, Alanic) conquest of Roman Spain (or, more accurately, of the Iberian Peninsula).  To the extent this work talks about the Suevi, it deals entirely with the Suevi of Spain/Portugal.

Second, in the aforementioned Cronica Maiora, Isidore says of the same Iberian Suevi that “[t]he Suevi, held by King Leovigild, were subjected by the Goths.”  The reference here is to the Visigothic king Leovigild (Liubagilds) (ruling 568 – 586) who first tried to defeat the Suevi in 576 (but the then Suevic King Miro (it’s claimed to be a “Germanic” name so don’t get too excited) negotiated peace) and who was finally able to achieve this goal in 585 (incorporating the Suevic kingdom into the Visigothic one).

Third, Isidore mentioned the Suevi in his most famous work – the Etymologies, where (at Book II, ii, 98) he says that:

“[t]he Suevi were a segment of the Germanic nation at the northern frontier.  Of them, Lucan (Civil War, 2.51) says: ‘across the Elbe and the Rhein pour the fair-haired/blonde Suevi from the extreme north.’  Many have reported that there were a hundred villages and communities of Suevians.  The Suevi are thought to have been named from Mount Suevus, which forms the eastern boundary of Germania and whose territory they occupied.”


Incidentally, Lucan actually says: “Fundat ab extreme flavos aquiline Suebos Albis et indomitum Rheni caput”

Thus, here, for the first time we see that Isidore is referencing not the “Western” or Iberian Suevi known to him from Spain and Portugal but the ancient Suevi of Germania.


Well, in his Etymologies Isidore also comes to the geography of the world and Europe specifically.  Here he makes the following comment (at Book XIV, iv, 3):

“The first region of Europe is lower Scythia, which begins in the Maeotian swamps (i.e., the Sea of Azov), stretching between the Danube and the northern Ocean up to Germania.  And this land is called Barbarica in general usage on account of the barbaric people by whom it is inhabited.  Its first part is Alania, which touches the Maeotian swamps; after this Dacia, where Gothia is; then Germania, where the Suevi inhabit the greater part.

(Europa autem in tertiam partem orbis divisa incipit a flumine Tanai, descendens ad occasum per septentrionalem Oceanum usque in fines Hispaniae; cuius pars orientalis et meridiana a Ponto consurgens, tota mari Magno coniungitur, et in insulas Gades finitur.  Prima Europae regio Scythia inferior, quae a Maeotidis paludibus incipiens inter Danubium et Oceanum septentrionalem usque ad Germaniam porrigitur; quae terra generaliter propter barbaras gentes, quibus inhabitatur, Barbarica dicitur. Huius pars prima Alania est, quae ad Maeotidis paludes pertingit; post hanc Dacia, ubi et Gothia; deinde Germania, ubi plurimam partem Suevi incoluerunt.)

“Where the Suevi inhabit the greater part”?  If Isidore is writing this to describe the state of affairs around 636, then we have to ask the question: was he right?  Did the Suevi really occupy the “greater part” of Germania at the beginning of the 7th century?

Perhaps not.

Even though Isidore seems to be describing the situation in his own time, this passage appears to be lifted close to verbatim from Paul Orosius‘ “Against the Pagans” which was written in 416-417, i.e., at the beginning of the 5th century.  Here Orosius said (at Book 1, 2):

“I shall now wander with my pen through what man knows of Europe.  Europe begins in the east at the Riphaean mountains, the river Tanais, and the Maeotid marshes.  Its border runs along the shore of the Northern Ocean to Gallia Belgica and the river Rhine in the West.  It then comes down to the Danube, which is also called Hister.  This river runs from the south towards the east and ends in the Euxine Sea.  On its east is Alania, in its centre Dacia, where Gothia is also found, then comes Germany, the greater part of which is held by the Sueves (where the Suevi possess the largest part).” [A.T. Fear translation (CUA translation)]

(Nunc Europam in quantum cognitioni hominis conceditur stilo pervagabor.  A montibus Rhipaeis ac flumine Tanai Maeotidisque paludibus, quae sunt ad orientem, per litus septentrionalis oceani usque ad Galliam Belgicam et flumen Rhenum, quod est ab occasu, deinde usque ad Danubium, quem et Istrum vocant, qui est a meridie et ad orientem directus Ponto excipitur, ab oriente Alania est, in medio Dacia, ubi et Gothia, deinde Germania est, ubi plurimam partem Suevi tenent.)

We shall return to the immeasurable parts of Germania that were inhabited by the Suevi, of course.  For now, however, we may want to ask a more modest question: was the largest/greater part of Germania occupied by the Suevi even in Orosius’ time?  Were we to answer this question in the affirmative, the answer would be less shocking than the same answer referencing Isidore’s own time.  Considering the lack of information regarding the Suevi for such a long time, such an answer would, nevertheless, be quite surprising.  It would, if correct, establish the Suevi (and not the Goths, Vandals or Alans) as the primary people of Germania – at the beginning of the fifth century – notwithstanding all that by then would have happened there since Caesar’s encounters with Ariovistus and since the Marcomannic Wars.

If, so then surely Orosius would not have been referring just to the tiny remnants of the Suebi in the form of the Swabians?

Final Thoughts

We leave you with the relevant passages (118 – 120 with some lead-in) from Isidore’s Cronica Maior along with (in brackets) the latest (e-Spaniatranslation based on the edition of José Carlos Martín (2003) (there are two versions of the manuscripts, hence the two versions in brackets).  The manuscript below is from the St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek (Cod. Sang. 133).

As a final teaser, note the reference to the events from the time of the Emperor Phocas (Byzantine Emperor 602 – 610) where Isidore tells us: “the Prasini and the Veneti waged civil war throughout the east and Egypt and prostrated themselves with mutual slaughter.”  The e-Spania translation states that “[t]his is a reference to civil strife between different circus factions in the east.”  The “circus factions” are the teams competing at the Hippodrome of Constantinople but this conclusion is strange.  Why the circus teams of the “greens” (Prasini) or “blues” (Veneti) should have fought outside of the Hippodrome “in the East” and also in Egypt (!?) is less than clear.  Of course, the alternative solution, i.e., that these are somehow references to Prasini (whoever they were) and Veneti, as in, the tribe of the Veneti (perhaps some Slavs) would be only mildly less confusing (at least as regards the “Egyptian” reference).

That the Veneti means “the Blues” is itself interesting as, as we have pointed out before, the word Wundan referred to “water” – in the Old Prussian tongue (and the same is vanduo in Lithuanian).

Cronica Maiora
(Selected Sections)

115. Justinian ruled for thirty-nine years. Receiving the heresy of the Acephali, he compelled every bishop in his kingdom to condemn the three chapters of the Council of Chalcedon. In Alexandria, the Theodosian and Gaianan heresies appeared. In Spain the Roman “miles” was invaded by the tyrant Athanagild. The patricius Belisarius triumphed wonderfully over the Persians. From there he was sent by Justinian to Africa and destroyed the people of the Vandals. Also in Italy, Totila, king of the Ostrogoths, was overcome by Narses, the Roman patricius. At the same time, the body of St. Anthony the monk, discovered by divine revelation, was taken to Alexandria and buried in the church of St. John the Baptist.

[5761 Justinian reigns 39 years.  The patrician Belisarius remarkably triumphed over the Persians.  Who then, having been sent to Africa by Justinian, destroyed the people of the Vandals.  At the same time the body of Saint Antony the monk, having been discovered by divine revelation, is taken to Alexandria and is interred in the church of Saint John the Baptist.]

[5765 Justinian reigns 40 years.  He, admiring the heresy of the Acefali, compels all the bishops in his kingdom to condemn the three chapters of the council of Chalcedon.  The Theodosian and Gaianan heresy arise in Alexandria.   In Africa the Vandals were destroyed by Belisarius.  The Roman soldier enters Spain due to Athanagild.  Also, in Italy, Totila, King of the Ostrogoths, is overcome by Narses, the Roman patrician.  At the same time the body of Saint Antony the monk, having been discovered by divine revelation, is taken to Alexandria and is interred in the church of Saint John the Baptist.]

116. Justin the younger ruled for eleven years. He destroyed those who had spoken out against the Synod of Chalcedon and ordered the effigy of the 150 fathers to be burned by the people in the time of sacrifice. The Armenians first received the faith of Christ at that time. The Gepids were extinguished by the Lombards. At the same time Martin, bishop of Braga in Galicia, was regarded as illustrious in prudence and the teaching of the Catholic faith. The patricius Narses, after he had overcome King Totila of the Goths in Italy in the time of the Augustus Justinian, was frightened by the threats of the empress Sophia, wife of Justin, and so invited the Lombards from Pannonia and introduced them into Italy. At that time Leovigild, king of the Goths, brought back, under the power of his kingdom, certain regions of Spain that were rebelling against him.

[5772 Justin the Younger reigned 11 years.  Afterwards, the patrician Narses, under Justinian Augustus, overcame Totila, King of the Goths in Italy. Very frightened by the threats of Sofia Augusta, wife of Justin, he invited the Lombards from Pannonia and introduced them into Italy.  At this time Leovigild, King of the Goths, by conquering certain rebellious regions of Spain for himself, rendered [them] into the power of his kingdom.]

[5776  Justin the Younger reigned 11 years.  He destroyed those things which had been published against the synod of Chalcedon and he ordered that the profession of faith of the 150 fathers would be celebrated by the people at the time of the offering.  Then the Armenians first take up Christianity.  The Lombards extinguish the Gepids.  At the same time Martin, Bishop of Dumium, preaches in Gallaecia in the doctrine of the faith.]

117. Tiberius ruled for seven years. The Lombards, expelled by the Romans, entered Italy. The Goths were divided into two by Hermenegild, son of King Leovigild, and they were devastated with mutual slaughter.

[5779 Tiberius reigned 7 years.  The Goths, having been divided into two by Hermenegild, son of King Leovigild, are devastated by mutual slaughter.]

[5782  Tiberius reigned 7 years.  After the Romans had been driven away, the Lombards came into Italy.  The Goths, having been divided into two by Hermenegild, son of King Leovigild, are devastated by mutual slaughter.]

118. Maurice ruled for twenty-one years. The Suevi, held by King Leovigild, were subjected by the Goths. The Goths were also converted to the Catholic faith, having been summoned by that most religious prince, Reccared. The Avars, fighting against the Romans, were defeated more by gold than by iron. Thrace was seized by the Huns. At this time, Leander excelled in the teaching of the faith and the sciences for the conversion of the Gothic people in Spain.

[5800 Maurice reigned for 21 years.  The Sueves, having been prevailed over by the Goths, are made subject by King Leovigild.  Also, at the same time the Goths, being leaned on by Reccared, the princeps, are turned back to the Catholic faith.  The Avars, fighting against the Romans, are driven out more with gold than with the sword.]

[5803  Maurice reigned for 21 years.  The Sueves, having been prevailed over by the Goths, are made subject by King Leovigild of the Goths.  Also, at the same time the Goths, being encouraged by Reccared, the most religious princeps, are converted to the Catholic faith.  At this time bishop Leander is considered outstanding in Spain for his knowledge and faith.]

119. Phocas ruled for eight years. Made emperor as the result of a military revolt, he killed the emperor Maurice and many of the nobles. In his time the Prasini and the Veneti waged civil war throughout the east and Egypt and prostrated themselves with mutual slaughter. In addition, very grave battles were fought against the republic of the Persians, in which the Romans were forcefully beaten and lost many provinces up to the Euphrates River as well as, they say, Jerusalem.


[5808 Phocas reigned 8 years.  He, having been made emperor by a military revolt, killed Maurice Augustus and many of the nobles.  n his time the Greens and Blues made civil war throughout the East and Egypt and exhausted each other by mutual slaughter.  Also, most serious Persian wars were stirred up against the republic. By which, when the Romans had been strongly subdued, they lost many provinces and Jerusalem itself.]

[5811  Phocas reigned 8 years.  He, having been made emperor by a military revolt, killed Maurice Augustus and many of the nobles.  The Greens and Blues made civil war throughout the East and Egypt.  Also, most serious Persian wars are raised against the Romans. By which, when the Romans had been strongly subdued, they lost certain Eastern parts.]

120. Heraclius has completed five years of his imperial rule. At the beginning, the Slavs took Greece from the Romans; the Persians took Syria, Egypt, and many provinces. Also in Spain, Sisebut, king of the Goths, took certain cities from the same Roman “militia” and converted the Jews subject to his kingdom to the faith of Christ.


[5813 Thereafter Heraclius completes the fifth year of his rule.  In Spain Sisebut, the most glorious princeps of the Goths, made many cities of the Roman military subject to himself by fighting.  And he converted the Jews who were the subjects of his kingdom to Christianity.]

[5827  Heraclius completes the sixteenth year of his imperium. At the start of whose [reign] the Slavs took Greece from the Romans, the Persians Syria and Egypt and many provinces.  Also, in Spain Sisebut, king of the Goths, took many of the cities of the same Roman military  and he converted the Jews who were the subjects of his kingdom to Christianity.]


In the so-called Continuation of Isidore there is the following entry (same as above):

“In his days, in the year 653* of our era and the fourth of his rule, the Slavs take Greece.”

* This actually refers to 615 [?].  The “his” is Heraclius.

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October 26, 2015

And Now For Some Fun

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Maurits Gysseling was a Dutch-Belgian linguist who, along with Hans Kuhn, was a proponent of the so-called “Nordwestblock” theory.  The theory, very roughly, states that the Northwest “block” (somewhere in Belgium) of the continent consisted of peoples that were neither Germanic nor Celtic – at least linguistically but who became “Germanized” at the beginning of the Christian Era.  In this respect, Kuhn speculated that the language may have had an affinity with the Venetic.  Others thought it was Raetic or Illyrian/Old European or something between Germanic and Celtic.  This is – roughly – in tune with Ernst Wilhelm Förstemann’s statement that there are portions of West Germany/Netherlands where there are no Germanic (meaning Nordic/Teutonic) place names.

Given our discussion about the Batavian Veleti, intrigued we thought this was of some interest and decided to have some fun.  The results of that “fun” are below.

However, before we go there, let’s note that if you too want to learn about the toponyms of Western Europe, you can access here Gysseling’s Toponymisch Woordenboek van België, Nederland, Luxemburg, Noord-Frankrijk en West-Duitsland (vóór 1226).

Since this was strictly for fun we did not engage in a detailed study.  Nevertheless, here are some things we looked up as plotted on the map below:

  • names containing Wenden, e.g., Vendin-Le-Vieil or Vendin-Les-Bethune or Breden > former Wenden – these are marked with a blue square;
  • two names (that’s for starters – someone should really go up and down the river) that we noticed on the River Lippe (Lippa) that is Werne an der Lippe > former  Werina (Uuerina) and Kamen > former Camine – these are marked with a purple circle;
  • names of a “forest” nature such as Lesquin > former Lechin/Lescin, Lessines, Lessy, Quœux-Haut-Maînil (also Maisnil) > former Lesin/Lisin, etc. – these are in red;
  • other place names with the -in ending (for more of those see here, of course) – these are in navy blue squares/diamonds;
  • finally, we could not resist to throw in Barlin and Moskou > yellow stars;

We are not, of course, suggesting that all or any of these are Slavic (e.g., Dublin, Michelin, Peppin or, for that matter, Rabin!) – nevertheless, this is an interesting exercise.


Here are Gysseling’s descriptions of the above – he also gives the current name and the source documents with approximate (or exact) dates.  You can get more info (including the meaning of the non-obvious acronyms at the address above). 

Quœux-Haut-Maînil lessy lesquin liusna




If you want to try something interesting, you can plot the following – we did and there were simply too many place names.


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October 17, 2015

On the Brothers Germani

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For the proposition that Slav-Teutonic relations were not always just hostile (or at least not any more hostile than intra-Teutonic and intra-Slav relations we have to look no further than the Greater Poland Chronicle (end of the 13th century) where we read the following passages.  They also contain an interesting (if rather unlikely) interpretation of the name germani – later fully appropriated by the “Teutons”:

“It is worth knowing that Slavs and Teutoni are said to descend from two brothers, John and Russ [or Kuss] [themselves] descendants of Japheth, in accordance with what Isidore says in the first volume of his Etymologies and what Martin says in his Roman Chronicle.”*


(Scire autem dignum est, quod Slavi et Theutonici a duobus germanis, Japhet nepotibus, Jano et Russz, dicuntur habuisse originem, prout Isidorus in primo libro etymologiarum, et Martinus in Cronica romana videntur declarasse.)

* These names come from Genesis.  As for Isidore he says nothing about Slavs or Germans in volume I of his Etymologies.  The various nations are discussed first in volume V – where, however, Isidore does not mention Slavs.  He does mention the Sarmatians, the Alani, Alemanni, Lombards and Vandals before discussing the “Germanic” nations including, in their own section, the Suevi. (Book IX, 2, 98).  The reference to “Martin” is to Martin of Opava or Martin of Poland (Martinus Polonus) and his Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum.

“And now also to explain the name Germanorum.  The name comes from “german” because the one and the other is bound together with the blood of brotherhood [i.e., is related].  For “gerzmo” is a certain type of tool, in which two cattle are united pulling behind them a plough or a wagon.  And so too the Teutoni who have countries neighboring the Slavs, frequently interact with them and there are in the world no other nations who are so pleasant and friendly to one another as the Slavs and the Teutoni.  So too, from the Latin speakers comes the name Ducz [Deutsch], from which later comes Teutoni and Slavus from which comes the name Slavs, and then germane, that is brothers.”


(Item alia interpretatio Germanorum.  Dicitur a german, quia unus alterum fraternitatis consanguineitate attingebat.  Nam gerzmo est quoddam instrumentum, in quo duo boves simul juncti trahendo aratrum seu plaustrum incedunt.  Sic et Theutonici, cum Slavis regna contingua habentes, simul conversatione incdent, nec aliqua gens in mundo est sibi tam communis et familiaris, velut Slavi et Theutonici.  Sic etiam per Latinos Ducz a quo Theutonici, et es Slavus a quo Slavi, germani qui et fratres, sunt appellati etc.)

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October 16, 2015

On Words Part III – How You Say or the Polish Letter “Ł”

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Recently, a friend of the site has raised an issue with the pronunciation of the word Suevi (or for that matter Suebi).  To the extent the “ue” was not pronounced as a “v”, it seems to have been pronounced as a “u”.  However, it has been claimed that the Slavic letter “Ł” – or rather the sound which the letter is currently understood to represent, i.e., the sound that in English would be written as a “w” – did not originally exist in Slavic languages.

In particular, it has been claimed that:

  1. Eastern and Southern Slavs pronounce their corresponding “Ł” sounds as “L”s.
  2. the aristocratic and sophisticated members of high society – the Polish elites – refused to adopt it up until after World War II (when they also happened to have been heavily thinned out).
  3. instead, what is today pronounced in Poland as a Suav or Swav was – as in most southern and eastern Slavic languages – previously pronounced Slav; and, the “w” sound in its current Polish form developed only “in the last quarter of the 16th century“; in fact, the great Polish writer Jan Kochanowski called the “w” pronunciation pejoratively “wałczenie”

What is the relevance of this?

Put simply, if the Suevi were pronounced Suevi (i.e., with a “u”, a claim we assume as true for purposes of this piece) but if Slavs were pronounced Slavs (i.e., with an “l”) and not Suavs then the notion that the two words were related – except in the more distant sense as set out by Jacob Grimm – would seem overturned.

Let’s take a look at these claims – starting with the easiest ones.


Claim 1 is not really debatable.  Current pronunciation of the word “Slav” in Eastern and Southern Slavic languages – and pronunciation of the same sound in those languages as far back as we can see – is indeed an “l” pronunciation.  This, however, should surprise no one.  After all the Greeks did write Sclavi – indicating that the Slavs that invaded Byzantium were Eastern Slavs.

In fact, some people in Eastern Poland (e.g., around Białystok) still pronounce the L “dentally”, i.e., have the tongue touch the upper teeth in pronouncing their “Ł”s (although the dental pronunciation is waning and remains – among Polish speaking peoples – primarily among ethnic Poles living in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia (but, apparently and curiously, not in the northern portions of the former USSR, e.g., not in Lithuania)).

Claim 2 is partly true – a large portion of the Polish nobility did pronounce the “Ł” as an “L” and so did the “classically trained” pre-WWII Polish actors.  However, that fact, in and of itself, does not show which is the “more Polish” or “more correct” pronunciation…

What of Claim Number 3?

The other claims, however, are much more problematic.  For example, it struck us as rather curious to pin point the alleged change from an “l” pronunciation to a “w” pronunciation so exactly to the “last quarter of the 16th century”.  Are we really to believe that the vast majority of the peasant population of Poland suddenly got up and changed how they pronounced a particular letter?  Presumably not.  Presumably the process should have been gradual.

But there is no evidence for a gradual process that has been developed.  What we see instead is an “l” pronunciation among the upper classes and people in Eastern Poland and a “w” pronunciation among the lower classes elsewhere in Poland.  (Add to that a potential “w” pronunciation among some of the Wends of Germany and among a portion of Polish nobles).

So what “happened” at the end of the 16th century that people are so focused on?

It turns out nothing that should be of relevance.

In order to formulate a response, however, one first has to go back to the facts…

Where are the Facts?

A good source for the facts is a proponent of the view that the “w” pronunciation was not the original one – Zenon Klemensiewicz.  Klemensiewicz provides a nice summary of the sources of the literature on this topic in his “History of the Polish Language” (Historia języka polskiego).


“[There was change in the articulation of the phoneme ‘ł ‘ a the turn of the 16th and 17th century expressed in the disappearance of the dental pronunciation, which with time led to the pronunciation by a significant portion of Poles of the ‘l’ as a ‘u’.]  The oldest signs of this “wałczenie” was discovered by A. Brückner in”Maciej Rywocki’s Peregrination Books (1584-1587)” (Archive for the Literature and Education in Poland, vol. XII, pp 177-257) and noted the same in the Etymological Dictionary under the entry ‘Narzecza’ [i.e., dialects].  We also find it in the documents of the Cracow Archive from the year 1588.  Kochanowski in Polish Orthography says about the ł “barbarum”, which suggests that he is talking about the ‘wałczone’ ł, which, indeed, would sharply contrast [in pronunciation] with the liquid ‘l’.  At the beginning of the 17th century we also find signs of wałczenie  in Maciek’s Peregrinations from the year 1612, e.g., okoo = okołopszezegnau, poetry.  [The spread of the pronunciation of the letter ‘ł’ as a ‘u’ falls into the New Polish Age [he means 1750-1939]].”

Note: As regards Klemensiewicz’s lead-in or his, last sentence, we can only say that the review of the literature shows them to be clearly unsubstantiated.  His reference to the “articulation of the phoneme ł” is also misleading in that, as we will see, the question in the 15th and 16th centuries was not of phonemes but rather of whether the letter “l” – which represented two phonemes “l” and “ł” – should be split into two different letters and, if so, how should these be written.

Nevertheless, Klemensiewicz’s source summary is helpful and we rely on it.

What are the Facts?

In 1584, a young gentleman – Maciej Rywocki – probably from Mazuria along with three of his friends and a servant set out for a three-year long trip to Italy.  He was no doubt one of many young scions of wealthy families who were sent to educate themselves in the arts and culture of post-Rennaissance Italy.  What those young gentlemen actually planned to achieve in Italy (and on the way there) when their parents’ ears were a distance away, was, of course, quite a different matter.

ksiegi peregrynackie

Rywocki, was unique, however, in three respects.  First, he – unlike some of the other “peregrines” – wrote down his adventures in a manuscript.  Second, the manuscript survived.  Third, the manuscript was deemed interesting enough, for one Jan Czubek, to publish it in print in 1910 under the pompous title “Maciej Rywocki’s Peregrination Books (1584-1587)”.

The published work describes how – on sheet 67 of the manuscript – Rywocki and his companions came across a mighty memorial stone placed in honour of Augustus.  Rywocki also describes on the same page below a miracle whereby a boy who lost a ball (which fell into a local church) saw the Virgin Mary appear to him.  In both of these descriptions – of the stone and of the church miracle – Rywocki spells  what in the literary language of the day presumably should have been an “l” as a “ul” instead.  This same “phenomenon” appears in other parts of the manuscript.


The published work and – perhaps too – the manuscript were examined by the Polish linguist and literary historian Aleksander Brückner.   Brückner published his great Polish etymological dictionary in 1927 and, under the definition of the word “narzecze” (roughly, “dialect”) he stated the following to describe a process that had been referred to before as “wałczenie” – that is the replacement (or rather alleged replacement) of the “l” sound by the “w” sound:


“Another aspect [of dialects], wałczenie, the [bi]labial pronunciation of the liquid ł [as opposed to dental], even more widespread [than mazurzenie], newer [why?], in the 16th century among the peasants constantly mocked [by whom Brückner does not say], it [i.e., this aspect of the peasant dialects] does not appear in the literary language (maybe in Mazur Rywocki’s [writing] who wrote in the year 1584 omglau, posłau, kardynau, etc.).”


Thus, Brückner claims that wałczenie was a “linguistic development”  That it was “newer” than mazurzenie.  That it was not reflected in the Polish literary language (by this he means that it was not reflected in the orthography of the day) except, perhaps, for the first time in 1584 in Rywocki’s writing (Brückner calls Rywocki a “Mazur”, i.e., a man from Mazuria).

Several things come to mind.

First, Brückner nowhere (at least not that we know of) shows why either of these dialectic aspects was a “development” from the “proper” Polish or Slavic in the first place.  Absent some other evidence, the only way to make this claim it seems is to assume that the Eastern/Southern Slavic languages were more ancient than the Western ones.  But that, in turn, may presuppose the direction of Slavic migrations – a question that (as our friend points out) we are trying to answer here in the first place.

Second, Brückner does not say that this development “occurred” in 1584 or in the “last quarter of the 16th century”.  He merely notes that the earliest evidence of the process in the literary language was – in his view – the Rywocki manuscript/book.  This is in stark contrast with claims that the “l” became a “w” sound “in the last quarter of the 16th century”.

Third, as to the geographic scope of these phenomena.  Brückner says that wałczenie was an even more widespread aspect of Slavic dialects than mazurzenie.  What does he mean by “widespread”?   Does he mean among the populace in the regions in question (wherever they may have been) or does he mean it more in a geographic sense?

Well, earlier in the same paragraph Brückner states that mazurzenie is itself quite “widespread.”  It is absent in Great Poland and in Kashubia, southern Silesia and also absent from the literary language.  This leaves – for Poland – Little Poland (around Cracow) and Mazovia (around Warsaw) as well as, obviously, Mazuria (i.e., southern portion of East Prussia).  But Brückner states that this process of mazurzenie is not exclusively Polish and that it covered entire Pomerania “even beyond the Elbe (and there it is found already around the year 1000), so also Old Prussia (in the 13th century) and Latvia, and reaches to Great Novogrod.”  If we take Brückner at his word and assume that wałczenie was even more widespread (in the same geographic sense that he just discussed for mazurzenie) than mazurzenie, then given what he wrote we are unsure of how even to limit wałczenie‘s geographic scope.

Fourth,  as to the chronology.  Brückner claims  that mazurzenie was already present around the year 1000 in Polabia…  (Assuming this to be true (he does not say here in which portions of Polabia), we cannot, however, conclude that it moved West to East from there for the simple reason that the state of knowledge at the edges of the Frankish Empire was greater than further East).  Brückner does not tell us here why  wałczenie is supposed to be younger (and how much younger) than mazurzenie.  But even if it were younger, given Brückner’s dates we could assume a time as early as the 11th century…  Certainly the end of the 16th century may simply be a time when the pronunciation started appearing among the upper classes of society as well or at least in the literary language – to the extent Rywocki’s diaries may be seen as that.

But there is more.  Given the lack of significant West-Slavic literary samples from before the 16th century and, even more importantly, given the free-for-all nature of Polish grammar and orthography at the time, there is very little that can be said of how written letters were actually pronounced and whether such pronunciation differed geographically, across socio-economic classes, etc.

All that we can really say here was that wałczenie could have been in place – using Brückner’s own assertions:

  • chronologically – maybe since the 11th century but, realistically, as far back as we are able to look.
  • geographically – unspecified, but covering a “more widespread” geographic area than mazurzenie which covered Little Poland, Mazovia, Mazuria, entire Pomerania as far as the Elbe/Laba (with the possible exception of Kashubia (Kashubian language does have an “ł”), Old Prussia, Latvia and Rus as far as Veliky Novgorod
    • whether and to what extent there was a territorial correspondence between these two aspects of “dialects” is not clear from Brückner’s description.

Put differently, there is no specific reason to believe based on the review of the above that the Polish (or Polabian or north-western Russian) peasantry pronounced the word “Slav” as anything other than “Swav” or “Suav” at any time for which we have sources.

Wałczenie a la Barbarum 

But maybe there are some other reasons to think wałczenie first appeared “in the last quarter of the 16th century”.  Here we come to the Kochanowski assertion.

And, what did Jan Kochanowski say about wałczenie?  Well, we have not found the term in Kochanowski…  (BTW it is not clear (to us) where it comes/originates from).

What Kochanowski did say (as Klemensiewicz correctly notes – see above) was that there was a second pronunciation of the letter L and that it was barbarum.  He did so in a book on Polish orthography called “The New Polish Character and Polish Orthography” issued in 1594 which he co-authored with Lukasz Gornicki (i.e., Łukasz (!) [Ogończyk] Górnicki) and Jan Januszowski.


There Kochanowski states the following under the heading for the letter “L”:


L. L, dwoje: jedno łacińskie, które tak pisać: ladaco, lód, wilk, ktokolwiek. Drugie barbarum, które tak pisać: kłótka, łaskawy, łakomy.”


L. L, two different ones: one is Latin, which should be written as follows: ladaco, lód, wilk, ktokolwiek.  The second barbarum, which should be written as follows: kłótka, łaskawy, łakomy.”

If you look closely you will see what he is talking about – Kochanowski says that the Latin L should be written curling towards the upper right whereas the “barbarum” L should be written with a dash starting at the top of the letter and then heading towards the lower left:


Kochanowski does not say how the “barbarum” L was pronounced, though it is clear that it was pronounced differently from the Latin L.

What is more interesting than what Kochanowski wrote is what his co-author Januszowski wrote.  Januszowski says that he does not like the different ways the same letter is used (i.e., the different pronunciations being associated with one letter).  But he says that (rather than what Kochanowski suggests (i.e., the curling right or the dashing left) which, in Januszowski’s view, may easily result in misspellings because the differences between the Kochanowski suggestions are so negligible), that we should instead leave the Latin l and L as they are and use a second l/L, a “Polish one” with a line through it, i.e., ł or, if capitalized, Ł.

Januszowski also notes that the third author –  Lukasz Gornicki (whose name would be most affected by these changes) – prefers to write – in lieu of the “Polish ł” – a double ll together.

A few points:

  • In none of this is there a suggestion of:
    • how the the letter Ł should actually be pronounced aside from the fact that it is pronounced differently than L;
    • the relative age of the pronunciation of either sound – or even any claim which is the newer one (barbarum simply meant the uncouth, non-Latin pronunciation).
  • Moreover, the fact that:
    • Kochanowski calls the Ł (w?) sound barbarum suggests not just that it was the uncouth, non-Latin pronunciation but that it was the older one, perhaps retained from the past by the peasantry (other than in the East perhaps) – this is because the lower classes, sheltered more from cosmopolitan influence – are more likely to preserve their ancient customs, rites and, yes, pronunciations;
    •  Januszowski calls the Ł a “Polish” letter hints also that the underlying sound itself which the letter was meant to represent may have been local.

Thus, based on this early book on orthography we are inclined to suggest that – notwithstanding Klemensiewicz and Brückner – the “w” pronunciation was at least as ancient as the “l” pronunciation with the difference (at least as far as the eye can see) being more geographic than chronological.  If one were to extrapolate from the above, one could tentatively associate the North and Northwest of Slavdom (Suavodom?) with the “w” and the East, the Southeast and the South with the “l”.

(Of course, the chronology of all of these is likely to be very complicated but we can say “at least for all practical purposes relevant here” – e.g., what the pronunciation may have been 4,000 years ago is anyone’s guess).

Wałczenie a la Parkoszowic

We also note that the question of how to spell some of these sounds was already tackled by our friend  (see here and here) Jakub Parkoszowic in his much earlier (circa 1440) treatise on orthography (this was a first known attempt to standardize Polish orthography):


“{ll} And so also the ‘l’ sometimes hardens, sometimes weakens, for example, [in] list it is a letter [used] for [the word] ‘leaf’ [but] listh is a part of a leg; lis that is a ‘fox’ [but also] lisz that is a ‘bold person’; despite the fact that all else remains the same, [the ‘l’] is once harder once softer; so [also] at the end [of a word], For example, Staal that is ‘steel’ [and] staal [that] is ‘he stood’.”

Note: Parkoszowic calls:

  • the “Latin L/l” a “soft L/l”; and
  • today’s “Ł/ł” (i.e., pronounced today as “u” a “ue/ua” or “w”) a “hard L/l”.

thus, stal as in ‘steel’ is pronounced as it looks in English (“softly”) but stał is pronounced ‘stau’.  

He continues further in the text:


“And let also the hard ‘l’ be written without the dash.  For example, lapka, lekce, liszego losze ludzy lothka.  But let the weak ‘l’ be written with a dash at the top.  For example, laasz, lis, loch, lesch, ludze, ląnkawka.”

Finally, he says:


“And so also with ‘l’.  If we decide to represent the soft ‘l’ by using [after it] a double ii [he means a ‘y’ so that the whole thing is written ‘ly’], in some cases that will be appropriate, in others absolutely not.  Thus, lyschka that is a ‘fox’, lysska is a ‘caterpillar’, lysth is a ‘leaf’.  Whereas, in accordance with what has been said above – each vowel that is written with two letters should be pronounced as a long [vowel], in all the above examples [the vowel] is a short one.  This is the first example of nonsense [in the current orthography].”

Note: Parkoszowic means that if we indicate the soft (Latin) ‘L’ by writing a ‘y’ after the ‘L’ then the impression would be that the vowel that follows the ‘L’ should be a long one (e.g., leeeeeeeeaf) which is wrong at least in some cases.  Thus, in fixing the pronunciation of the ‘L’ we give the subsequent vowel is to be pronounced.

“And also if one adds a double y to an ‘l’ that occurs at the end of a word then hat will result in a confusion of meanings.  For example, staal that is ‘steel’.  If after the ‘l’ one were to write a ‘y’, we would get staaly, which means ‘they stood’.  So where is [what happened to] our ‘steel’?  If we were to write without the ‘y’, then we would have  stal that is ‘he stood’.  That’s the other problem.”

“It would be better to express the difference [in pronunciation], if we were to write the hard ‘l’ without a dash, [but] with a ‘staff’ [instead]; hence, staał łyssy, that is ‘he stood [i.e., became] bald’ [current Polish: stał [się] łysy – ‘he became bald’]; whereas, the soft ‘l’ without adding the ‘y’ [such as] stal that is ‘steel’, listh that is ‘leaf’, luud that is people.”

Note: Thus, Parkoszowic in his treatise (written circa 1440) opted, in resolving the issue of a double pronunciation of the letter ‘L/l” to:

  • keep the “Latin” L/l as an L/l everywhere (no changes there); and
  • to create an additional letter – Ł/ł – to represent the “w/ue/ua” sound (as in Suevi or Suavi).  That additional letter would not have a dash going towards lower left on top but rather have a line or “staff” through it.  A century and a half later, years later in choosing the same “staff” crossing an ‘L’ to represent the “hard L”, Jan Januszowski would agree with Parkoszowic (Kochanowski, as we saw above, preferred the dash).


Based on our review of the sources, it seems the above claim 3 has absolutely no basis in any of the sources we saw or that are cited by its proponents.


Consequently, we feel confident once again to reiterate that – at least among Western and Northern Slavs – the “L” was pronounced as a “ue” as far back as anyone can see.  The only exception to that seem to have been portions of the nobility.  We are willing to be convinced otherwise, of course but are not holding our collective breaths.


Stefan Kulbakin making the same point in the Slavic Review

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October 13, 2015

On the Tropaeum Alpium

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We have previously discussed the Vindelici on a number of occasions.  For example here and here.  As we mentioned, Tiberius (who was not yet emperor) defeated them in 15 B.C. Circa 12 B.C. – 6 B.C., the then reigning emperor (sort of), Augustus had a monument built to celebrate “his” victories (i.e., including those of Tiberius) against various Alpine tribes – including the Vindelici.  The monument – called Tropaeum Alpium – stands (notwithstanding partial destruction on orders of Louis XIV) still in the French commune of La Turbie – near to Monaco.


The Tropaeum Alpium is interesting to us because it lists the “four nations of the Vindelici” (among a plethora of others) and because those names – or at least some of them – sound oddly familiar.


“The four nations of the VINDELICI:



(note that this is the common interpretations – however, it is also possible that the four above names have nothing to do with the Vindelici and that the “four nations of the Vindelici” are actually unnamed, i.e., that the four above names are simply the four names that merely follow on the inscription the Vindelician tribes which are, again, otherwise unnamed).

Pliny the Elder gives the following summary of the inscription in his Natural History:



Strabo says the following (Geography IV, 6.8):

“Next, in order, come those parts of the mountains that are towards the east, and those that bend round towards the south: the Rhaeti and the Vindelici occupy them, and their territories join those of the Elvetii and the Boii; for their territories overlook the plains of those peoples. Now the Rhaeti reach down as far as that part of Italy which is above Verona and Comum (moreover, the “Rhaetic” wine, which has the repute of not being inferior to the approved wines of the Italic regions, is made in the foothills of the Rhaetic Alps), and also extend as far as the districts through which the Rhenus runs; the Lepontii, also, and Camuni, belong to this stock. But the Vindelici and Norici occupy the greater part of the outer side of the mountain, along with the Breuni and the Genauni, the two peoples last named being Illyrians. All these peoples used to overrun, from time to time, the neighbouring parts, not only of Italy, but also of the country of the Elvetii, the Sequani, the Boii, and the Germans. The Licattii, the Clautenatii, and the Vennones proved to be the boldest warriors of all the Vindelici, as did the Rucantii and the Cotuantii of all the Rhaeti.”

Thus, according to Strabo, the Tropaeum Alpium‘s Licates (Licatti) would be Vindelici.   But the Rucinates (Rucanti) would be Rhaeti.  Perhaps the Cosvanetes are Vindelici (if they correspond to Vennones) or Rhaetii (if they correspond to Cotuantii) . The Catenates are either Vindelici (Clautenatii) or Rhaeti (Cotunatii).  The Cotuantii obviously suggest the Antes.

As we all know Noricum was right next to Rhaetia and Nestor explicitly bills the Slavs as Noricans.

Now, all of this is very interesting and – slightly – odd since the much, much later Greater Poland Chronicle (aka Chronica longa seu magna Polonorum*) contains the following assertion:

“Per praemissa autem quatuor regna slavonica, videlicet Pannoniorum, Lechitarum, Ruthernorum et Czechorum seu Bohemorium designata habent.”

Which translates to:

“They have designated for themselves four kingdoms, namely, known by their names of Pannonians, Lechites, Ruthenes, and Czechs called Bohemians.”


Polish National Library

* The “Greater Poland Chronicle” is a bit of a misnomer.  It was written in Great(er) Poland but the actual title refers to the long or great chronicle of the Poles.

Whether one could reasonably associate the Licates with the Lechites and the Rucinates with the Ruthenes is a question.  Whether the Czechs could pick up the Cosvanetes or Catenates is another.

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October 13, 2015

Once Again on Slavs – Part I

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As we have discussed many times before, given man’s infinite capacity for hubris, each age of man proclaims its own truth as the most rational, scientific and – most importantly – final.  By extension, each such age also proclaims the truths of the past as wrong, outdated and altogether passé.

Looking from the outside (to the extent that is possible! we try though!) one might be tempted to ask whether current truths are only those truths that are currently “trending” – often with no serious foundation or reason – other than the logic of a snowball heading down hill.

But the beauty of the story of the snowball and the hill is that the former eventually runs out of the latter.  Now, this may be a result of exhaustion or, if you will, gravity and friction.  But it also may be a result of someone noticing that there was no hill or no snowball in the first place and that what we were witnessing was an elaborate parlour trick (or, less kindly, con job).  Since the magician is unlikely to be motivated to show his hand, we are forced – if we suspect something ain’t right – to reason our way to calling him out on his illusion.

Which brings us exactly to the heart of the matter as regards the whole “Origin of the Slavs” debate.  We’ve previously looked at how what is taught as history may be rooted not so much in truth but in current political preferences.  Let’s now look at several other similarly delicious aspects of this debate.

  • First, let’s look at the effect of the relative balance of power (economic, military, cultural, etc) determines how one perceives history.  We have an excellent example from the German approach to the “Origin of the Slavs” question.
  • Second, we will look (again) at how different assumptions about history translate into different interpretations of facts that might – absent such assumptions – have resulted in entirely new theories.  Here the example of the Suavi-Slavi incongruity being ignored or molded to fit preexisting notions about the past will be of interest.  Another example will have to do with the heavily politicized (strange, isn’t it!?) question of the ethnic nature of the Aesti.
  • Third, we will look at the final refuge of the scoundrels – the redefinition of the debate.  Here we have an excellent example of linguistic prestidigitation when we ask the mainstream historians and archeologists to tell us what do they mean exactly by “Slavs”.
  • Fourth, we will ask about the implication of answers that differ from the ones that we are regularly being served up – both in the context of German self-perception and in the context, to come full circle, of today’s status of the “European project” – a project that the Germans (but also many others) hold near and dear – at whatever price.

Let’s begin, with the first aspect – our carrot & stick theory of German perception of the history of the Slavs.  (We will continue with items 2, 3 as well as 4 in subsequent entries).

Germans on the Origin of the Slavs

German “Elitist” Theories


Eastern Hypothesis

In the 19th century we had the, let’s call it, Eastern hypothesis.  German scientists, confident in the rise of a strong, industrialized and unified Germany had to explain why so many inhabitants of the Empire were not speaking German.  They, therefore, came up with the Eastern hypothesis which, basically makes some or all of the following points:

  1. Central Europe was “originally” Germanic (Eastern Germanic but nevertheless);
  2. Germans left.
  3. Slavs were newcomers who arrived from the East – probably with the Huns but maybe even with the (in larger numbers) or pushed forth by, the Avars.
  4. Where in the East the mass of Slavs came from was irrelevant (or, at least, it was irrelevant for so long as the German Empire was not claiming those Eastern lands) with the proposed homelands ranging from the Pripet Marshes to somewhere beyond the Urals.
  5. The German Drang Nach Osten, therefore was not only a civilizational mission but a form of Reconquista where the Germans (never mind which) were returning to their Eastern homelands (which, just happened to be one of many German homelands but never mind that).
  6. The formation of the Slavic state was the work of Germanic peoples (Vikings from the North but the Germans of Germany were content with that as they always looked up to their Nordic “cousins” as “purer” versions of themselves – perhaps a certain sense of inadequacy).

(On the other hand, 19th century and early 20th century Slavic historians, of course, denied all six of the above postulates.)

This view of Germans and Slavs was picked up on by the Nazis (although whole heartedly only after it become clear that Poles and Czechs would not be drawn into a crusade against the Soviet Union).  It was a view whose strongest expression, therefore, occurred in times of relative German strength.  Put simply, whenever Germany was strong it could define history however it liked to and exclude others from its past just as it was actually excluding others from the present.

Eastern-light Hypothesis

After the war the Eastern view, for obvious reasons, mostly fell out of favor.  Nevertheless, it perseveres today in an “Eastern-light” version where postulates 1, 2 and 3 are still clung onto, postulate 4 is rarely mentioned, 5 is never mentioned in polite company and 6 is (with the exception of the old Rus state – where it actually does seem to apply) nowadays agreed to have been wrong.

This much for the German “mainstream”.

German Theories of “Inclusion”


But the German (far) right always had a different theory in its pocket.

A theory that seems to be strongest whenever Germany is relatively weak militarily.  This theory is one that is – with one exception – actually quite similar to the 19th century Slavic theory.  This is what we would call the “Inclusive” theory.  According to this view:

  1. Central Europe was “originally” Germanic (Eastern Germanic but nevertheless);
  2. Germans, for the most part, did not leave.
  3. Slavs were newcomers from somewhere but their numbers were – relatively – small.
  4. Where in the East the Slav conquerors came from is irrelevant.
  5. The German Drang Nach Osten was a mission of national reawakening (some versions of this actually deny Germany colonization in any large numbers).
  6. As to the leadership of the early Slav states, there are two variations here depending on whether the “Nordic” theory is too tempting for the given professor of this view or not:
    • “basic version” – no, they were foreign (Slavic) oppressors of the Germanic populace.
    • “convoluted version” – yes, the leadership of the new states was largely Nordic (though, as a “bone” to the locals, perhaps they do not have to have come from Scandinavia – they could have been local);

The crux of this theory is that the vast majority of the Slavs are, in fact, Germans though some (unspecified) percentage may be “Slavs” – whatever that means.  For more of this type of thinking look at Walther Steller or, more recently, Jochen Wittmann.


(The “Daglinger” are Wittmann’s invention – based on the Dagome Iudex document and a stray reference to another Dagons in the Baltic area found in a Scandinavian saga).

Basic Inclusion

The “basic” version of this theory basically posits the Slavs as arrivals in the 6th century  and later who took over and who “Slavicized” the local German populace.

This theory is basically a variation on the mainstream Eastern-light theory which  – grudgingly – admits that some Germanic population may have survived in Central Europe and was later Slavicized.  This acknowledgment itself is a response to criticism of the mainstream Eastern theories from the so-called Slavic “autochtonists”.  Those historians raised the issue of how was it possible for the Slavs to have inherited toponyms and hydronyms which are – allegedly – not Slavic if the entire population of Central Europe was posited to have been replaced.  The answer that came back was that, well, not everyone left so some – small relatively to the newcomers – percentage of the Slavic population could have Germanic ancestors.  Let’s call this variation of the mainstream Eastern-light theory, the “Eastern-light with small Germanic survival” (confused yet?).

As the autochtonists immediately pointed out, this mainstream response, of course, presented many problems.  For one thing, the “small” Germanic “rest-population” would have had to have survived across vast swaths of Central Europe since the phenomenon of – allegedly – “non-Slavic” names was not local in its occurrence.  This suggested that a rather large component of the “new” Slavs was composed of a “preexisting” population.  Second, the inherited names were vastly non-Germanic – which suggested that – whatever original population did survive, such a population was not Germanic.  This seems to have been confirmed by the fact that “real” Nordic names for the various place and water names did exist – but they had not become part of the Slavic dictionary (e.g., ancient Vistla, Viscla, Vistla > Polish Wisła (with pronunciation of Visua or Viswa) whereas the German word is Weichsel).

The “basic inclusive” theory basically turns the mainstream “Eastern-light with small Germanic survival” theory on its head.  Whereas proponents of the latter theory might say that, say 10-20% of the Slavic population (but evenly spread out over Central Europe!) was Germanic, the “inclusive” Germanic theory would say that that percentage was closer to a range of 70-90% (depending on how “inclusive” one wanted to get).

The problem with the “basic inclusive” theory, of course, is that it does not answer how the local Germanic population would have become so thoroughly conquered and Slavicized with so few Slavs arriving.  A corresponding situation in the Kievan Rus developed entirely differently with the Swedish (probably) Rus conquerors becoming thoroughly Slavicized in the span of a couple of generations.

Of course, the “basic inclusive” theory could “solve” this problem by simply varying the relative percentages of the “Germanic autochtons” and the “Slavic conquerors” but obviously to do this it would have to give up some of its boldest claims (i.e., of predominantly Germanic local population).  In the end, if it were to claim that the 10% of local Germans were Slavicized by 90% of the population which was new and Slavic, the theory would look no different than the above “Eastern-light with small Germanic survival” theory.

Convoluted Inclusion

What about the version of the inclusive theory that is slightly, shall we say, convoluted?  Well, in this version, the leadership of the new Slavic states is Nordic.  This is much like postulate 6 of the German elitist theory of the 19th century but the difference appears to be (we say appears because these theories are, let’s say, “not entirely worked out) that the majority (?) of the population appears to be Germanic too.  The Slavs are, thus, reduced to nonexistence.

The obvious problem with this theory is that it cannot (given its assumption as to what it means to be Germanic – i.e., it means Nordicism) explain how the same vast swaths of Central Europe that we mentioned above suddenly started to speak Slavic languages.

Now, there is, of course, a way to salvage even this theory but it is unlikely to be a way that the theory’s proponents would appreciate the solution proposed.

Other Versions of Inclusion?

We conclude by noting that something akin to the above “inclusive” theories exists even outside of German “far-right” thought.

For one thing, as already noted above, the Eastern-light Hypothesis already admits that some – small – percentage of current Slavs can trace their ancestry to a pre-Slavic – presumably Germanic – population.

Even the 19th century brought forth some version of the inclusive theories – in amateur form – as this article (featuring a “Gothic” incarnation of the idea) in The Open Court magazine titled “The Poles and their Gothic Descent” indicated:


Of course, this brought a vigorous response from Polish-American press with the result that the editors of The Open Court were put on the defensive publishing a follow-up “apologia that was not an apologia” under the title “Slav and Goth“.


But even some mainstream scholars may be willing (?) to go a little further than the mainstream.  Thus, even though we previously picked on his shoddy scholarship regarding the Vandals, we would be remiss if we did not quote Herwig Wolfram on the subject of Slavs here:

“We cannot describe the phenomenon of Slav expansion in conventional historical categories, let alone explain it.  A silent revolution [eh, those assumptions!] took place from the end of the fifth century to the beginning of the seventh century in large parts of eastern and central Europe between the Baltic Sea and the Aegean, and nobody can really say how half of Europe could become Slavic in such a  short period of time.  After the end of the tribal migrations, Germania was, if anything, smaller than before, if we subtract the losses in the east [i.e., he means to the Slavs!] from the gains in the west and south [i.e., he means the kingdoms of the Goths, Franks, Lombards, etc – this is a false equivalence because these tribes – like the Rus later – lost their original language and became fully – and relatively quickly – assimilated by the local population)].  Over the period of half a millennium, the empire was able to Romanize only part of the land under its rule.  By contrast, in only a few generations Slavicization had a much more lasting success, which was more than the result of a mere migration and also far exceeded any imperial policy, let alone military conquest… Perhaps the ‘obscure progression of the Slavs’ [from Lucien Musset] can best be characterized as follows: the Germanic bearers of tradition and their warrior bands departed from the region east of the Elbe, and a Slavic identity seems to have emerged among the Germanic-Sarmatian peasant population left behind.  However, this did not take place in a continuous sweep from east to west, as certain areas were passed by and became Slavic only at a later time.”  [emphasis ours]

Of course, if one goes along with this, there are only two things that remain to be asked.  One is: Which Germanic and which Sarmatian peasants became “Slavicized?”  The most likely answer to this question, we’ve already given here when discussing the Suevi and the Sarmatian connection.  (The follow up question of what those Sarmatian “Iazyges” (?) tribes could have been called is, no doubt, too difficult for most of today’s historians to answer…)


Ptolemy mentions the same in the second century


And the situation in the fifth century

The more difficult question is the second one: How did this happen?  This is a much harder question to answer, seemingly because it relies for its existence on an assumption which stubbornly refuses to go away.

So Now What?

Ok… so some Slavs may, indeed, feel flattered by being courted and sign another Volksliste (for another “divide and conquer” strategy, feel free to see also the Austrian concept of Windische).

However, none of these “inclusive” folks want consider where this kind of thinking ultimately leads and who the people previously known as Germans may well have been…

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October 12, 2015

On the Mare, the Water & the Warming of the Souls

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Michał z Janowca (Michaele de Janoviec) a monk at the monastery in Trzemeszno (Tremesno) wrote the following in his Polish sermons:

“And we strongly warn you not to walk around “with a mare” [i.e.,] with “kobylica” and if they should come to you from other parishes, do not give them quarter [in your parish/village] under penalty of excommunication.  And we prohibit most firmly that no one should dare walk [to get?] “dyngus” because so many people are soaked [drowned?].  And [as to] Holy Wednesday they may be admonished, not to burn [“candles” called] “gromadki“, in accordance with the pagan custom [and] in commemoration of souls of their loved ones.  And as to those who lie, who say that the souls go to such fire and there [they] warm themselves, [we may say] truly, no one leaves [such heresy], who has once gone there.”

(Item monemus vos firmissime ut non ambuletis per equam po kobylicySz kobylicza et si de alijs parochijs ad vos veniunt, nolite eis quartenses dare et hoc sub anathemate iubemus.  Item depectationem po dynguszom prohibemus firmissime ut nullus audeat ambulare quia ita multi submerguntur.  Item feria quarta magna admoneantur, ne crement focos grumathky ardentes secundum ritum paganorum in commemorationem animarum suarum cariorum.  Item qui mentiuntur, qui dicunt quod anime ad illum ignem veniant et se illic calefaciant.  Nullus namque egreditur, qui semel ibi intraverunt).

Sermones Polonici a fratre Michaele de Janoviec scripti (towards the end of the XVth century).  The language of this version comes from Aleksander Brückner, Ueber die älteren Texte des Polnischen in Archiv für slavische Philologie, Volume 10, p. 385.

What can we say?  Old habits die hard!







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October 2, 2015